Banning Halloween

The October bacchanalia turns into a religious issue for the nation's public schools

This article originally appeared on Beliefnet in October 2000.

You'll see harvest-time pumpkins and hay bales decorating the public schools in Coppell, Texas, this week. But you won't see any ghost or witch costumes, and there won't be a Halloween parade. In fact, you'll barely hear the word "Halloween" mentioned.

Educators in this Dallas suburb of 25,000 view the big October bacchanalia as a quasi-religious holiday and have stopped celebrating it--in much the same way schools nationwide have dispensed with Christmas and Hanukkah because of church-state debates.

The children of Coppell are on the cutting edge of a national trend that is turning the old-time celebration of kids, candy, and costumes into an uncomfortable period--like December--that public school administrators simply try to endure.

"I don't think I've been in a school district where the question about Halloween hasn't come up," says Charles Haynes, senior scholar of religious freedom at the Freedom Forum in Washington. "In some cases, they've had lots of parents beginning to complain, and administrators aren't sure what to do. The number of districts just saying no to Halloween is small--but it's growing."

Why? Because as children from different religious and ethnic backgrounds fill the nation's schools, their parents object to celebrating holidays they don't mark at home. In the case of Halloween, many Muslims, some Jews, and most evangelical Christians object to Halloween on religious grounds--and are making their views known.

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Haynes got his first queries from educators and parents about Halloween five years ago, but the questions have increased in the last few years. In 2000, for instance, an evangelical Christian parent in Nashville called Haynes to ask if she could organize an alternative party held in a school classroom. (Yes.) Meanwhile, in Katy, Texas, a principal wrestled with whether or not to disallow Halloween celebrations after parents complained. (He decided to ban the celebrations based on the large number of complaints.)

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