PLAINVILLE – The Plainville Senior Center has reached a decision to allow religious hymns to be sung by their choral group, provided that they do not exclude any religion.
In June, senior center staff spoke with the choral society after hearing them singing a religious song during a rehearsal. At the time, Shawn Cohen, director of the senior center, said that it had been an “unwritten rule” that religious songs were only sung at Christmas time. However, the matter would be taken under review. She met with the group again after speaking with Town Attorney Michael Mastrianni.
“This meeting was an opportunity to share with the group the outcome of the research we did,” she said. “After speaking with the town attorney, he re-assured us that the choral group can sing hymns. However, they cannot exclude or discriminate against any religion.”
Cohen said that there was also a discussion about how the choral group is being organized. Performances have always had themes to them. However, some songs have not always matched these themes in the past.
“Soloists would show up and say ‘this is the song I’m singing’ and it may not have anything to do with the theme,” she said. “If there is a Wizard of Oz theme, it might not be the time to sing an Elvis song. Now, when people sign up as a soloist, they will be making sure that the music fits the theme. The theme for September is ‘Accentuate the Positive’, which is all about music that is uplifting.”
Cohen said the choral group is a dedicated group that has been giving a lot of their time going out and singing at local nursing homes for 44 years.
“It’s very special what they do; they’re very caring people,” she said.
David Spencer had been a member of the Plainville Senior Center’s choral group since February or March of this year. He had protested the unwritten rule about religious songs, arguing that it was censoring freedom of speech. However, after the decision was handed down Friday, he said that it was “fishy” and only a pyrrhic victory.
“They now allow hymns, but there is no hymn for our performance in September, which I think speaks volumes,” he said. “They stepped in and put in all these rules and regulations which weren’t in there before, which I think are intended to restrict hymns and squeeze them out. We have always had themes for Valentine’s Day, Saint Patrick’s Day, etc. but it wasn’t the entire problem. It was maybe a third of the program.”
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.