Not too long ago, I was telling a friend about the “Winter Concert” at my daughter’s preschool. My friend got unexpectedly fired up about this term, exclaiming that “they” don’t let anyone say “Christmas” any more, and isn’t it awful? She didn’t back down from her position, even when I said that calling it a “Christmas Concert” in this instance might be especially inappropriate, given that the school rents space from a synagogue.
This time of year, it always feels like people are out in full force ranting against the “PC Police” who are trying to take Christmas away. From my point of view, this is just ridiculous. First, Christmas is still just about everywhere you look. Stores are open around the clock, there are radio stations that play nothing but Christmas music, there’s a Christmas tree in Rice Park, and every mall has its own Santa. The last day of Hanuka was December 9 this year, the solstice has passed, and I’m not seeing a lot in the way of Kwanzaa-specific decoration. It’s all about Christmas. Really.
Second, and more on point for this blog, the Establishment Clause prohibits the government from sanctioning or endorsing any particular religion. Nativity scenes on courthouse lawns and framed depictions of the Ten Commandments in courtrooms are all prohibited, and rightly so. All of those imply a state endorsement of one particular religion over others, and can lead to the appearance of bias. Imagine a Muslim criminal defendant who enters a courthouse and sees a prominently-displayed portrait of Jesus. If that defendant is convicted, might he believe that his religion was a factor against him? Removing religious references – including Christmas – helps to preserve the all-important appearance of impartiality.
Finally, a point that I think is lost to many who rail against the so-called “War on Christmas.” Although atheists and secular groups seem to be the main champions of the Establishment Clause these days, it also protects religious groups. People are free to practice their belief systems without any interference from government, no matter how bizarre they may seem to others. Whether it’s freedom OF religion, or freedom FROM religion, the Establishment Clause benefits us all.