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Phillip Dean

Phillip Dean

When Phillip and his classmates at York Preparatory Academy walked into band class expecting another normal day of practice, their band director delivered a surprising and disappointing announcement. Because he was told that the school had received a threatening letter from the ACLU, they would have to cut two songs the students had chosen for the winter concert –including the “Christmas Overture,” because it contained “Joy to The World” and “O Come All Ye Faithful” in the medley.

Why would traditional Christmas songs, especially instrumental versions without words, be banned from a winter concert? Phillip knew this wasn’t right, and decided to do something about it. He and several other students met with the school’s managing director, Mr. Eaton, who repeated the same story.

Meanwhile, Phillip’s dad did some research of his own, and found Alliance Defending Freedom. Attorney Rory Gray quickly got in touch with Phillip, and assured him that performing Christmas carols is constitutional. He emailed Phillip a letter for the school board explaining that no federal court has ever banned students from singing or playing religious Christmas carols. At the school board meeting that night, Phillip read a statement and gave them the letter.

Some of Phillips’s friends questioned him, “What’s the point? Why do you want to do this?” “Because I feel like it’s necessary to stand up for what I believe in,” he explained.

When Phillip posted about the situation on Facebook, neighbors and friends suggested that Phillip contact the local media. Phillip contacted a local reporter, who asked for a copy of the ACLU’s letter. After Phillip pressed the managing director for a copy, it came out that there was no actual letter. The school censored students out of a fear of the ACLU and a misunderstanding of the First Amendment. Once Phillip and some concerned parents spoke at a school board meeting, the board voted unanimously to bring back the songs. “Christmas Overture” was back in the concert lineup.

Phillip said the whole experience strengthened his faith. “When this whole thing came about, I was shocked, but I always believed in standing up for what I believe in… and I’m not a kind of person who’s going to back down from anything…The outcome of this situation made me realize that if I fight for what I believe in, if I put my faith out there, it’s going to go good for me.”

To other students standing up for what they believe in, Phillip’s advice is to stay strong and not give up. “When this whole thing came up, I didn’t know where to go or what to do. It definitely takes a lot of patience and faith. You just have to prepare yourself for this battle… stay strong and be patient.” 

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