Are school Christmas carols, plays and nativities Constitutional?
What are my constitutional rights in school with respect to Christmas? It might surprise some to learn that the Constitution does not allow the government to prevent you from doing in public — even at school — most things that you do at home. The constitutionally ill-informed like to refer to the “separation of church and state” as the rationale for a prohibition of religious or seasonal expression in public places. No such language exists in the Constitution. To prevent you from doing these things would be as unconstitutional as mandating that you do them.
Actually, the language of the First Amendment, from which opponents to religion derive this falsehood, is “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Such was included for the sole purpose of preventing the government from creating a stateapproved organization of religion as had happened in Europe for more than a thousand years. Simply, the government may not establish a state religion. Instead, the government is charged with protecting “the free exercise thereof.”
So decorate your school Christmas trees (not diversity trees), distribute your Christmas cards (not holiday cards) with Biblical messages on them to your schoolmates, greet your school friends and colleagues with Merry Christmas (not Happy Holidays), sing “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World,” in your school choirs and, for heaven’s sake, do not let your teachers or administrators change Christmas Break to Winter Break or “Sparkle Season.” You have a culture and heritage to preserve, so say the courts. You may even have a nativity scene in the classroom or on school grounds, but outside activities are better left to parent organizations.
Some might say that I am giving you the view and practice of 50 years ago. This is so; but, amazingly, that view remains in place constitutionally. Whereas the Supreme Court has participated in constitutional distortion in so many other areas in the past, the original view, the “free exercise” of religion, still holds. The Court has not ruled on any measure that would silence those who celebrate Christmas openly and in public places. If it did so, it might fairly be accused of creating an organization of the irreligious to destroy religious freedom.
Yes, you might get a letter from the ACLU (or other groups) threatening your “free exercise thereof” of religion, but the Supreme Court has never upheld such a view — in fact, the opposite has been established in case after case. Because the ACLU has been successful in creating the opposite public impression, it can bully and bluster the ignorant into forfeiting their constitutional rights. And this it does.
Should such anti-religious organizations do more than bluster, which is unlikely given their loss ratio, defending your right to celebrate Christmas in the traditional — even historical manner — is protected by the Constitution and defended by the Alliance Defending Freedom, which a few years ago sent a letter to more than 13,000 school districts nationwide offering its free legal assistance. Attorneys all over the country volunteer their services to protect this part of the Constitution. Should a student or faculty member feel threatened by the school’s leadership, or wish counsel on this subject, the Alliance can be reached at 1-800-835-5233. And, school officials and teachers are invited to visit www.ADFlegal.org. The Alliance will be happy to send a letter encouraging them to honor your First Amendment rights.
Alliance literature notes the things that may be done in the public setting. Colleges may decorate campus Christmas trees. Christmas programs may include religious songs. The courts have recognized for many years that Christmas carols have achieved a cultural significance that justifies their being performed in public schools. Moreover, teachers may constitutionally present Christmas passages from the Bible when treating the event in the historical sense. The First Amendment does protect the right of individuals to private religious expression on public property — even nativity scenes. Even showing paintings of Jesus Christ in public parks is constitutional.
May the government sponsor religious displays inside government buildings? Of course! How could the Supreme Court rule otherwise? Moses with the Ten Commandments is chiseled in stone on their buildings. Prayer is held every working morning in both the House and Senate chambers, and each body dedicates a room for quiet meditation and prayer for legislators.
As this is written, the Alliance is defending an elderly woman in Chehalis, Wash., senior living complex called Providence Place. She and her neighbors have been banned by the managers of the complex from “saying ‘Merry Christmas,’ singing religious Christmas carols, or displaying any religious Christmas items in its common areas, including on the doorposts of the building’s apartments.” Management wrongly “claims that it cannot allow any resident to engage in religious expression because it accepts funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.”
Some school administrators share the fallacy that receiving government funding, which they do, inhibits this freedom. Not so!
So, Liberty Under Fire encourages readers to not give way on their First Amendment right of freedom of religion. How else will it be maintained? But we lose this freedom to the extent that we do not defend it. If not you, then who? If not now, then when? Doing nothing only exacerbates the problem and encourages opponents to bluster and intimidate all the more.
Merry Christmas, my liberty loving friends!
Harold W. Pease, Ph.D., is a syndicated columnist and an expert on the United States Constitution. He has dedicated his career to studying the writings of the Founding Fathers and applying that knowledge to current events. He taught history and political science from this perspective for more than 30 years at Taft College. To read more of his weekly articles, visit www. LibertyUnderFire.org.