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FIRST-PERSON: It’s OK to say ‘Merry Christmas’

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (BP)–All young Joel Curry wanted to do was include something fun and festive in a class project at school last Christmas.

He attached little cards to a batch of candy cane ornaments — cards explaining a popular history of the traditional holiday favorite. He would “sell” these candy canes to his friends as part of a simulation on good citizenship in the marketplace. It was a truly fun and friendly holiday idea for this valuable activity, consistent with the type of spirit we all hope to find in the hearts of children at this time of year.

Enter school district officials — the “Scrooges” who tried to kill the spirit of Christmas. Joel Curry’s cards made reference to the Christian influence on the history of candy canes, and that just wouldn’t do. A teacher, sadly misled by the commonly held, yet terribly mistaken, belief that such references to Christianity could touch off a violation of the so-called “separation of church and state,” notified her superiors of the cards. District officials ordered the removal of the cards from the ornaments.

Never mind that Joel’s cards could not possibly be considered an endorsement of religion by the school. Yet according to conventional “wisdom,” it is unconstitutional to mention anything in the public schools about the Christian — or even secular — history of the day called Christmas.

Except it’s not.

Public schools, municipalities, and even many Christians have fallen prey to the disinformation often propagated by the American Civil Liberty Union’s allies and other “Scrooge-like” groups that the mention of Christmas, the singing of Christmas carols, and the display of traditional Christmas symbols are violations of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause. But this claim — that the First Amendment forbids any public expressions of holiday spirit that smack of religion — is worthy of coal in the stocking. It’s not true, and that’s why people need to understand what the law really says.

That was the goal the Alliance Defense Fund had in mind when it started its Christmas Project. And ADF will continue it this year and every year as long as necessary to clear up misconceptions about seasonal religious expression on public property. Despite what groups like many in the ACLU would have Americans believe, here’s the honest truth:

— The U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled that public schools must ban the singing of religious Christmas carols or prohibit the distribution of candy canes or Christmas cards.

— School officials may refer to a school break in December as “Christmas Vacation” without offending the Constitution.

— School officials do not violate the Constitution by closing on religious holidays such as Christmas and Good Friday.

— No court has ever held that celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas as religious holidays requires recognition of all other religious holidays.

— Although under current court rulings a public holiday display must not convey a message endorsing a particular religion’s view to the exclusion of all others, religious Christmas displays are not completely banned as some people believe.

Last year, as part of this effort, ADF distributed thousands of informational letters, reaching representatives of over 1,000 school districts. ADF also contacted every state board of education and every state chapter of the National Education Association, informing them about the law and distinguishing fact from fiction. ADF attorneys and allied attorneys successfully resolved several legal matters and handled numerous phone calls requesting legal advice.

The project features a network of more than 700 trained attorneys, ready to combat continuing efforts to censor the celebration of Christmas and other protected expression in schools and on public property. As in the past, ADF will represent people of faith, as well as school districts or other entities, free of charge to defend their freedom of speech regarding Christmas. But this year, we want to do even more — everything from more widely exposing the tall tales and fantasies about public Christmas expression to offering people a pin they can proudly wear to express the truth about it.

It is again time to dispel the myths about religious expression at Christmastime that have prompted so many wrongful acts of government censorship of religious speech.

Sorry, Scrooge. It turns out that it’s OK to say “Merry Christmas” after all.
Alan E. Sears is the president and CEO of the Alliance Defense Fund, a legal alliance defending religious liberty through strategy, training, funding and litigation. More information on ADF’s Christmas Project can be found online at http://www.alliancedefensefund.org/faqs/resources.php or by calling 1-800-TELL-ADF.

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  • Alan Sears