An Unsolicited Opinion On Religious Freedom
The freedom to exercise one’s religion is an iron-clad guarantee found in the Bill of Rights. Additionally, the freedom from someone else’s religion is just as guaranteed. Americans are fortunate to live in a society which recognizes both freedoms. Curiously, however, it appears that the separation of church and state, such as the founding fathers of our nation intended it, has instead become a moat between Christianity on one side, Secularism on the other, and alligators in the form of lawyers’ attache cases swimming in the middle.
Christianity has apparently become the new four-letter word, and Christmas is under fire. The newspapers are laden with stories of government officials censoring the display of nativity scenes, schools forbidding the performance of Christmas carols during their holiday concerts, and Christian organizations being denied the privilege of entering religiously themed floats in parades. What gives? Does the Constitution of the United States truly suffer damage unless the word “Christ” is stricken from “Christmas”?
Rudolph The Red Faced Lawyer
Notwithstanding what many a civil-rights lawyers chomping at the bit for a spot in the limelight of a religious lawsuit may tell you, no court has ever ruled that the separation of church and state is violated by wishing someone a “Merry Christmas.”
Additionally, even though lawsuits have been filed against public schools wherein children sang Christmas Songs during choir practice, etc., none of these suits was successful. (1) Thus, if your child attends a school where carols have been nixed, you may wish to remind the overeager principal of this fact. Furthermore, the story of Christmas -- the birth of Christ, etc. -- may indeed be studied within public schools as a constitutionally protected first amendment aspect of a secular curriculum (2).
Yet what about the hotly debated display of the nativity scene this year? Can such a setup be placed in a government building? Why yes, it can! (3) Sure, government officials are too busy to placate the voices of those who scream “foul”, but legally they are on shaky ground (which means nothing in an election year).
Those of other faiths who find such displays at Christmastime intolerable will do well to remember that this freedom of religious expression works both ways: no longer are pupils and the general public deprived of the ability to learn about the history of the Menorah, Yule log, Schwibbogen, Crescent, etc. No longer do the children of non-Christians need to feel like the “weird kids”, simply because they wish their fellow students a “Happy Solstice.”
A true freedom of religion can only be exercised when each individual is given the opportunity (and ability) to truly exercise her/his faith (or lack thereof) publicly and without fear of repercussion. Children can only be brought up in such a freedom if they learn early on that one’s faith is nothing that must be hidden and/or may not measure up to the strict yardstick of a lawyer with too much time on her hands.
So, in closing, use the holidays to express yourself freely! Wish others a “Happy Hanukkah”, “Merry Christmas”, “Happy Solstice”, or “nice Saturday”! And most importantly, do not give in to the temptation of placating the politically correct types who are offended and litigious at the mere suggestion of a Christmas tree!
- Florey v. Sioux Falls School District, 619 F.2d 1311, 1319 (8th Cir. 1980).
- School District of Abington Township, 374 U.S. at 225.
- Bridenbaugh v. O’Bannon, 185 F.3d 796, 802 (7th Cir. 1999).
Please take a look at the editor’s book recommendations. .
To understand both sides of the issue, please consider reading Susan Jacoby’s book, which “celebrates the noble and essential secularist heritage that gave Americans the first government in the world founded not on the authority of religion but on the bedrock of human reason”:
Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism
To balance this perspective, I recommend David Limbaugh’s writing, which “exposes the liberal hypocrisy of promoting political correctness while discriminating against Christianity“:
Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity
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