Keeping Christmas In Our Schools
Q. Is it
true that public schools and their employees cannot even mention the word
"Christmas" on school grounds because it would be construed as violating the
principle of the separation of church and state?
ridiculous. And the courts have said so, loudly. The U.S. Supreme Court has
never banned the singing of religious Christmas carols, the organization of
Christmas parties in public schools, or the distribution of Christmas cards and
candy canes in public school. School officials may call it "Christmas vacation"
instead of "winter break" without fear of litigation: it's perfectly legal.
Sadly, though, many schools have caved in to special-interest
group pressure. Even though a 2003 Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll showed that
96% of Americans celebrate Christmas and 90% of them believe the holiday is to
celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, misguided school officials still are
trying to censor Christmas and other American holidays in schools.
They are grossly misunderstanding the right of every
American, including children, to free speech . . . not to mention fumbling on
common-sense human relations. It is a mistake to attempt to stifle and
undermine the religious beliefs of the vast majority of the taxpayers who fund
schools in the first place.
Here's the legal documentation you may need
to present to your school board, principal, teachers and anyone else who would
seek to censor Christmas in your public school this year:
n It's OK to sing religious Christmas
in government schools, either in class or at concerts for parents and the
public. This was established in the 1980 8th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals case, Florey v. Sioux Falls
School District. As long as the performance advances the students' knowledge
of society's cultural and religious heritage, and a full range of music, poetry
or drama is presented, then the singing of carols has good educational purposes
and is A-OK.
n It's OK to display a nativity scene, cross, the Star
of David or other religious symbols in a public school. It just must be in the
context of secular symbols of the same holiday that are displayed temporarily
during the season with educational purpose. The lighthearted nickname of this
policy is "The Three Reindeer Rule." As long as the decorations make it clear
that the school is celebrating that particular holiday, instead of promoting
the religion behind it, it's OK to have religious symbols mixed in with secular
ones such as a Christmas tree, reindeer, Santa Claus, dreidels, and so forth.
This right was established by the U.S. Supreme Court in Lynch v. Donnelly.
n Public school employees, including
teachers, are perfectly free to use the term "Christmas" based on their
constitutional right to freedom of speech. Among other reasons, Congress and
the President have both proclaimed Christmas as a national holiday and
government workers get a paid holiday on Christmas, which is referred to by
that name in Lynch v. Donnelly.
n School personnel, students and
parents are perfectly within their rights to use the Bible when talking
about Christmas in public schools, even reading the Christmas story out of a
Bible, as long as their purpose is to provide a literary or historical context
for Christmas. The Bible may not be used for religious or devotional purposes,
of course. But in the U.S. Supreme Court case, The School District of Abington Township v. Scamp, the Court ruled
that "the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities,"
and "when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education," the
Bible's use in public schools is constitutionally permissible.
n Christmas trees are OK to display on school
property, including in the classroom, because they are a secular symbol of
Christmas, rather than religiously-oriented. (Allegheny County v. American Civil Liberties Union)
n Students and parents have a perfect
right to have Christmas parties in the classroom during school time. Of course, it
should be more of a cultural celebration than a religiously-based one, it's a
good idea to have the parents pay for the party so that there's no question of
the school using tax funds for it, and if there is one or more children in the
classroom who are known to practice another religion, then a similarly-fun and
exciting cultural activity associated with that holiday should be included in
party plans. It's also a good idea to talk with that child's parents in advance
of the party and invite them to be involved with party planning or to attend
the party and share in the fun, so that they and their child will feel totally
n Students have a perfect right to
distribute religious literature in public schools, including religious Christmas
cards with religious messages. The protections for Christmas cards are found in
the U.S. Supreme Court cases Texas v.
Johnson and Widmar v. Vincent.
However, it's OK to prohibit the distribution of religiously-oriented cards if
the school can show that the distribution would "materially and substantially
interfere with school operations or with the rights of other students,"
according to the Tinker v. Des Moines
School District case. But merely showing that the religious messages are
"offensive" or "unpleasant" for other students is insufficient to warrant
censorship, according to Johnston-Loener
n Schools may not ban the greeting
"Merry Christmas" or the printing of the word "Christmas" in student work at school under
the free speech clause of the Constitution's First Amendment, as shown in Cohen v. California. As long as student
speech is not "sexually explicit, libelous, or defamatory toward another
student," as determined in Hazelwood
School District v. Kuhlmeier, it's OK.
Homework: The Alliance Defense Fund offers a
number of well-documented, pro-Christmas pamphlets and sample letters that can
be shared with school officials if Christmas is getting censored in your
See also http://mymerrychristmas.com/2005/pf/publicschools.html
Although it doesn't zero in on
holiday parties in school, this article from the American Civil Liberties Union
agrees with many other groups that religious liberties are to be celebrated and
exercised in public schools and everywhere else in our free society: