This became known on Christmas Eve with a report by the Augusta Chronicle that the VA center had suddenly clamped down on carolers singing religious Christmas songs in public patient areas. The center blocked religious caroling by high school students from Alleluia Community School in Augusta the week before Christmas even though they had done so the previous two holiday seasons.
In 2011 and 2012, the caroling students were greeted with open arms when they arrived at the VA uptown facility to sing. It was a tradition for the Alleluia students to visit the center during their annual caroling on the last day of classes before the holidays.
This year an official in the VA hospital’s volunteer services division, a.k.a. the Grinch, informed an Alleluia senior that the students would be allowed to sing secular songs only. Principal Dan Funsch said that when he and his carolers arrived at the facility they were given a list of 12 Christmas songs that the hospital’s pastoral service “deemed appropriate for celebration within the hearing range of all veterans.” Funsch said the “spiritual care” policy allows exemptions only for non-religious songs like Frosty, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Twelve Days of Christmas.
Hospital spokesman Brian Rothwell issued a statement saying, “It is out of respect for every faith that the Veterans Administration gives clear guidance on what ‘spiritual care’ is to be given and who is to give it.”
However, as a sop to the carolers, the Grinch policy would have let the Alleluia singers perform in a private chapel or day room if they chose to do so. Principal Funsch said after considering the short time frame and unfamiliarity with some of the songs on the VA-approved list of songs, his students decided on principle to not perform at the facility this year, hoping to find a suitable place to do their caroling next year.
Funsch said “the purpose of Christmas and its carols is to celebrate and honor the birth of Jesus, and if that goal is taken from us, it is an issue we do not want to be a part of. We do not think it is a good idea to systemically weed out religious Christmas songs from being sung in certain places.”
The good news is that the Grinch did not get to the Georgia Regents Medical Center in time to mess up the Christmas season there. At that facility, Alleluia Middle School students were permitted to sing carols with no problem. The singing was not deemed an infringement on the “spiritual care” of the patients who were “within hearing range.”
If any of the VA hospital patients simply couldn’t stand to hear a religious carol, the facility could have alerted them in advance, allowing them to avoid the performance. But instead all the veterans were deprived of hearing traditional carols. The Grinch won.