There was an issue that flared up amongst my friends and I at our University recently. We are all university music students. Our choir was singing Schumann's Mass in C minor and because this is a class there is a mandatory test on the piece. If you don't participate in the test and the final concert, then you fail.

 

The issue was that a certain student, who happens to be the leader of the bible study group at our school, went to the music director and told her that they refused to participate in the exam and their final concert. The reason being that this person is an evangelical and the Mass is a catholic song. This individual said they were uncomfortable promoting catholic views. My atheist friends and I thought it was ridiculous, until we found out that this person was actually exempted from performing and the final exam. All the other students would have to practice and take time out of their weeks to prepare for this exam and concert, but he gets special treatment because he's "not" catholic. Not to mention the atheists in the group, who have to spend an hours and hours during practices of the mass singing about the "glory of god." How do you think they feel? We feel like complete idiots, but we suck it up because it's not about religion. It's about the music and art.

 

I am posting this because I want to know if I'm just crazy or should we have actually done something about this. Any feedback?

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By now, you've probably already had the exam, but I suggest letting the instructor know your views, if only to help her see that it's opening a can of worms to let one person opt out in this way. Approach it with the idea that she might not have been confronted with this situation before, and made the best decision she could at that time for the individual involved. But you could help her think about how to handle the situation in the future, whether it's limiting religious music to only the most generic (which I think would be a shame), or giving more time to discuss the poetic and musical structures that make the piece important to learn, even if students disagree with it. Atheists are a somewhat invisible minority - but it's a growing group, and you can be part of the vanguard that raises awareness.
Russell, I was a cradle Catholic waay back when. I have been an outspoken Atheist for decades. I would have screamed 'bloody murder'.  I still think Handel's Messiah is fantastic on a pipe organ, but I'd have bitched about the free ride the non-Catholic got.

did your atheist friend requested for an exemption because of his atheism?

This presents an interesting legal question. Title VII prevents discrimination based on religion. One or more students were exempted from work based on religious beliefs. As a result, the remainder of the students were treated differently because they did not subscribe to a religion that prevented their participation. Sounds like a slam dunk discrimination case to me. You may want to contact your local EEO or state Human Rights office. They might make a call to the university to investigate the issue and keep you anonymous.

 

While there is no legal prohibition against excusing some students from the assignment based on religion, letting them off with less work is a problem. The right thing to do was to require them to do an alternative assignment of equal difficulty.

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