Friday, December 9, 2011

Bah Humbug: The War on Christmas

In recent years, conservative pundits like Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh have creatively manufactured a “war on Christmas.” John Gibson, who “pals around” with domestic culture warrior O’Reilly, boldly declares in his book, The War on Christmas, that some are trying to ban “ normal and traditional Christmas representations such as Christmas trees, Santa Claus, treetop stars, wreaths, the singing of and listening to Christmas carols or Christmas instrumental music, attending a performance of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol…”

There is a problem with the “war on Christmas.” It doesn’t exist and never has.

The constitutional right of people to worship, preach, sing carols, and celebrate Christmas in their churches with their families and friends –whether in public or private is well protected. These culture warriors seem unable to see what is staring them in the face: Christmas is pervasive in the public and private square, and, except when the government is being used to promote religious beliefs, it is entirely constitutional.

The First Amendment guarantees, individuals, families, businesses, and religious communities the right to celebrate and to display Christmas symbols. This right is uncontested, and is exercised annually by millions across our country. The ACLU itself has brought several cases on behalf of people who want to celebrate Christmas. The difficulty comes when the government decides that it wants to get involved in promoting some religious symbols or prohibiting others. Religion does best when government stays out of its business.

In addressing this dilemma, the U.S. Supreme Court has made very clear that, while the Government “may acknowledge Christmas as a cultural phenomenon,” the Constitution mandates that the government “may not observe (Christmas) as a Christian holiday by suggesting that people praise God for the birth of Jesus.” County of Allegheny v. ACLU, 492 U.S. 573, 601 (1989). While some limited governmental celebrations of Christmas are not unconstitutional, such as displays that recognize the holiday’s secular element, or that are part of an overall seasonal holiday celebration, the burden for the government to show that its activities do not have the purpose or effect of endorsing a religious message is high.

The ACLU vigorously defends the right of all Americans to practice their faith, and works to prevent the government from promoting and funding select religious activities.

Learn more about celebrating Christmas in America.