What has changed regarding Christmas celebrations and governmental entities?
December 1, 2020 | View PDF
Little has changed since earlier appellate cases and one will note slight subjective language in the subsequent decisions. These cases have arisen using the Establishment Clause of the Constitution of the United States to back up the adverse claims of individuals or groups in what they perceive as being unconstitutional.
The Establishment Clause is a part of the First Amendment and reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” followed by the Free Exercise Clause, which states, “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. The Establishment Clause is an oft-disputed issue, the Free Exercise Clause not so much. Until the Fourteenth Amendment was passed the United States Supreme Court considered the Establishment Clause as not applying to the states and local governments. It was not until 1940 that the Supreme Court held through the Fourteenth Amendment that the Establishment Clause applies to all levels of government. At the time of the formation of the country, six states had endorsed religious institutions so it seems that the eventual interpretive expansion to include governmental application at all levels was a move from the original intent. There have been additional arguments in school prayer cases where it has been argued that the use of certain religious rituals such as prayer in a state supported institution, such as a school, has an impression on the young and may create a peer pressure.
Since the 1980’s it has seemed that the typical way to present anything that has a religious component is to present it in a historical context along with secular symbols.
A Seventh Circuit case out of Indiana in 2015 was only decided in 2018, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. v. Concord Community Schools, No. 17-1591 (7th Cir. 2018). For 45 years through 2014 the Christmas Spectacular was presented at Concord High School in Elkhart, Indiana. In 2015, the Christmas Spectacular was challenged as being impermissibly religious. The District Court enjoined the school from presenting its version even after altered from what was presented in 2014. The show uses about 600 students who function as actors, set designers/ builders, costume makers and it includes a live nativity scene. The school then presented a second modification removing more of the religious content such as New Testament readings. It also added songs celebrating Hanukkah, Kwanza and included more secular songs. The former nativity scene was greatly reduced to using mannequins and only a single religious song. The 7th Circuit decided that Concord’s changes from their 2014 Spectacular suggested to a reasonable person that the show was not just about Christianity even though the Plaintiffs continued to argue that point.
Even though it is understandable that parents do not want an influential activity that is adverse to the teachings of the parents to the child, it is unfortunate that a small minority of individuals in a community and outside organizations such as the Freedom from Religion Foundation can disrupt certain activities.
When a form of government was being considered by the Constitutional convention, it was a constitutional republic form that was decided on. When it came to the school it seems the majority of the people for 45 years had no problem (at least not significant) with the program. Looking at political affiliation in Elkhart it appears to me to be overwhelming Republican and thus I would think more supportive or at least tolerant of the traditional school program. John Adams once said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” It seems a minority opposed to religious practice when connected, no matter how loosely to a government-supported institution flies in the face of what Adams said.
The teachings of parents to children and the beliefs of a majority within the community I am sure, continue to be held within the Concord Community Schools regardless of the disruption, even without the presented visualization of the nativity.
I do hope that each of you have a blessed celebration of your faith, from myself a Merry Christmas.
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