It’s that time of year again! It’s the season when sleigh bells ring, halls are decked with holiday decorations, and when talking heads appear on our TV or in newspapers with dire warnings of the “War on Christmas.”
Breathlessly, they exclaim that organizations like the ACLU are attempting to use the courts to take candy canes out of children’s hands, forbid the singing of carols, and dash a few dreidels while we’re at it. These dire warnings would be enough to reduce Frosty the Snowman to a trembling puddle, but fortunately, there’s not an ounce of truth to them.
The First Amendment of our Constitution guarantees that all Americans have the right to worship whatever religion they choose, or none at all, without government interference. That means you are free to erect holiday lights, a crèche, a menorah, a pentacle, and a statue of a Buddha on your own private property. You also may wish people you see on the street a “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Kwanzaa” or even just “Happy Holidays” without fear of being hauled off by police officers.
For more information, read "Civil Liberties and the Holidays."
The First Amendment also provides a second aspect of religious liberty: that the government may not establish a religion. Courts have come to accept that this means that officials cannot favor one religion over another or favor the right to worship over the right not to worship. What this means in the context of holiday displays is that government officials may not use taxpayer dollars or public land to erect a display that favors a single religion.
This is the part where those pundits start to fume, claiming that nativity scenes, crosses, and other religious displays have been a community tradition for years and that to forbid such a display is a violation of religious liberty.
However, as we are all allowed to post whatever religious symbols we would like on our own private property, how exactly are our religious rights being violated?
One only has to take a short walk through downtown areas in Northeast Ohio and all over the state to see that cities are decorated for the season. Most towns have displays that feature all sorts of holiday characters like Santa Claus and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and enough holly, wreaths, garland, candy canes, and snowflakes to make even the Grinch’s heart grow a few sizes. Businesses and private residences are decorated with colorful holiday lights, menorahs, crescents, pentacles, crèches, crosses, and other religious displays. Many houses also are void of any decoration whatsoever—which may have more to do with the pain of hanging the lights and displays rather than a religious statement.
This is exactly how the First Amendment should work. We can all celebrate our religious beliefs however we wish, while allowing our government to serve all the people and not favor one person’s beliefs over another. Unfortunately, we might need a holiday miracle to get those pundits to stop hyping the non-existent “War on Christmas.”
This blog originally appeared as part of opposing viewpoints on Cleveland.com.