__________________ ____________________  

Questioning the Constitutionality of Celebrating Religious


Holidays At Public Expense
It is unconstitutional for local, state or federal
governments to favor one religion over another? Government
can show favoritism toward religion by displaying religious
symbols in public places at taxpayer expense, by sponsoring
events like Christmas concerts, caroling, or by supporting
the teaching of religious ideas. It appears the United States government has had a history of favoring
Christianity. The United States government's favoritism of
Christianity is a clear violation of the First Amendment.
This amendment states that "Congress shall make no law
respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the
free exercise thereof." There is another reference to
religion in Article 6, Section 3. This clause states "the
United States and the several States shall be bound by oath
or affirmation to support this Constitution, but no
religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to
any office or public trust under the United States."
There have been several court cases on this and related
issues which include Engel vs. Vitale, Everson vs. the
Board of Education, and Lynch vs. Donnelly, the "Creche
case". In 1947, in the Everson vs. Board of Education case,
the Supreme Court ruled that the 14th amendment prevented
the States and the and the Federal government from setting
up a church, passing laws that favor any religion, or using
tax money to support any religion. Justice Hugo Black
"incorporated" the First Amendment's establishment clause
into the 14th Amendment which states that "the State shall
not deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal
protection of laws and due process. After this trial,
people began to question whether school prayer was
constitutional (pg. 93-94, Klinker). The "creche case,"
Lynch vs. Donnelly, came from Rhode Island in 1980. In this
case, the city offical included a creche, or nativity
scene, in their city's annual Christmas display that
included all traditional Christmas symbols. Chief Justice
Warren E. Burger represented the court's opinion when he
stated that, "Nor does the constitution require complete
separation of church and state; it affirmatively mandates
accommodation, not merely tolerance, of all religions, and
forbids hostility toward any." Justices Brennan, Marshall,
Blackman, and Stevens dissented. They thought the "primary
effect of including a nativity scene in the city's display
is. . . to place the government's impremature approval on
the particular religion's beliefs exemplified by the
creche." They argued that it clearly violated the First
Amendment (p. 99, Witt). These cases demonstrate a pattern
of Constitutional thought by high courts prohibiting the
promotion of particular religious ideas, and the spending
of tax dollars on events that promote particular religious
views. A logical extension of this pattern can be made to
the spending of tax dollars for decorating towns on
religious holidays, such as Christmas. Local, state, and
federal governments attempt to get around the prohibitions
of the Everson and Lynch cases by decorating the streets in
town with non-religious symbols such as lights, trees,
wreaths and other objects that symbolize the season. But,
religious people think the season itself has religious
meaning. Using tax money to decorate for a religious
holiday not celebrated by everyone is unconstitutional
because these symbols support one religion over no
religion. The First Amendment prohibits this. We understand
that public school prayer discriminates against some
religious views so it is prohibited in public schools.
Similarly, Christmas concerts play a role similar to the
teaching of creationism and prayer. The Christmas concerts
subconsiously influence students toward the beliefs of
Christianity. To be fair to non-Christian groups,
converting "Christmas" concerts to "Holiday" concerts would
maintain the "separation of church and state." One could
recognize the beliefs of many religions or none. One could
play music from several religions or non-religious music.
Religion is a personal belief. There are so many religions
to choose from, including the choice of no religion. It is
impossible to decide that one belief is right and another
is wrong. So it is reasonable to say that it is
unconstitutional for government to favor Christianity over
other religions, including Athieism. Instead of using tax
dollars to decorate the streets for the holidays, we could
use the money for other things like playgrounds and helping
the homeless. Also, students could play music that has no
religious meaning to please every belief or offend none.
This way, government would be prevented from favoring one
religion over another.
Henry, Richard, "Government in America",
Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1994
pg.141, 146, 148.
Klinker, Philip A., "The American Heritage History of 

the Bill of Rights", Silver Burdett Press., 1991
pg. 99-100, 109, 93.
"Darrow, Clarence Steward", "The American Peoples 

Encyclopedia vol.6 ", Grolier Incorporated, New York
1962, pg. 796.
Witt, Elder ,"The Supreme Court and Individual Rights", 

Second Edition, Congressional Quarterly Inc., 

Washington D.C., 1988, pg. 99


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