Religious Liberty

Halloween: A Religious Holiday?

04.20.12

Is Halloween off limits in the public schools? Do paper witches and goblins hung on bulletin boards violate the separation of church and state?

Not really. Courts have not typically been sympathetic to such charges. In one case in Mahoning County, parents sued to stop a school from using the name Blue Devils and a related logo for its athletic teams. The parents claimed that the name and mascot promoted Satanism, violating the principle of separation between church and state set forth in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. [Kunselman v. Western Reserve Local Sch. Dist., Bd. of Educ., 70 F.3d 931 (6th Cir. Ohio 1995)]

The U.S. Court of Appeals was not convinced, holding that: “the fact that [the parents] are personally offended by the mascot is insufficient to establish a First Amendment violation . . . no reasonable observer would believe that the use of the devil as a mascot is meant to endorse or disapprove any religious choice.”

A similar ruling ended a federal case in California, where members of a local religious group opposed the placement of a traditional Mexican statue bearing a snake in a city park. The court was unconvinced that anyone intended to promote either Satanism or the ancient pagan beliefs of the Aztecs. [Alvarado v. City of San Jose, 94 F.3d 1223 (9th Cir. Cal. 1996)]

The general rule governing religious themes in school was set forth by the Supreme Court nearly thirty years ago: schools may not adopt policies which either advance or inhibit a specific faith, or religion in general.