Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christmas and the Constitution


The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution begins,
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion . . . ."
Yet, Congress has declared December 25 a federal holiday to commemorate Christmas day. Christmas, of course, the day on which Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the only son of God, the messiah, and God incarnate (in other words, it has some not-so-subtle religious implications). People often ask me if recognizing Christmas as a federal holiday violates the First Amendment. The answer, per Ganulin v. U.S., 71 F. Supp. 2d 824 (S.D. Ohio 1999) is "No."

The opinion comes from a district court in Ohio but it was subsequently upheld by the Circuit Court which agreed with the District Court's reasoning. The Supreme Court denied certiorari (indicating they will not hear the case). The District Court actually began its analysis with a poem:
"THE COURT WILL ADDRESS PLAINTIFF'S SEASONAL CONFUSION ERRONEOUSLY BELIEVING CHRISTMAS MERELY A RELIGIOUS INTRUSION.

WHATEVER THE REASON CONSTITUTIONAL OR OTHER CHRISTMAS IS NOT AN ACT OF BIG BROTHER!

CHRISTMAS IS ABOUT JOY AND GIVING AND SHARING IT IS ABOUT THE CHILD WITHIN U.S. IT IS MOSTLY ABOUT CARING!

ONE IS NEVER JAILED FOR NOT HAVING A TREE FOR NOT GOING TO CHURCH FOR NOT SPREADING GLEE!

THE COURT WILL UPHOLD SEEMINGLY CONTRADICTORY CAUSES DECREEING “THE ESTABLISHMENT” AND “SANTA” BOTH WORTHWHILE “CLAUS(es)!”

WE ARE ALL BETTER FOR SANTA THE EASTER BUNNY TOO AND MAYBE THE GREAT PUMPKIN TO NAME JUST A FEW!

AN EXTRA DAY OFF IS HARDLY HIGH TREASON IT MAY BE SPENT AS YOU WISH REGARDLESS OF REASON.

THE COURT HAVING READ THE LESSONS OF “LYNCH” REFUSES TO PLAY THE ROLE OF THE GRINCH!

THERE IS ROOM IN THIS COUNTRY AND IN ALL OUR HEARTS TOO FOR DIFFERENT CONVICTIONS AND A DAY OFF TOO!"
"Lynch," is the Supreme Court case, Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668 (1984). Although a little cutesy, the Court's poem actually does a decent job of laying out its rationale (and they even included a case citation).

The Court applied the (in)famous "Lemon test" from Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971):
"First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion; finally, the statute must not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion."
The Court's resolution of the three prongs is foreshadowed by their poem.

First, Christmas serves secular purposes, including the accommodation of the "calendar of public activities." Second, the holiday is not primarily advancing or inhibiting religion - it is "recognizing the cultural significance of the holiday." Third, and finally, the Court could not find the requisite entanglement by merely closing federal buildings and declaring a holiday. The Court noted that federal employees can observe the holiday as they please and are not required to participate in any religious activities.

The Court dealt with a few other issues (standing, and equal protection) before dismissing the case against Christmas. The Court was in a tough position. On the one hand, it couldn't declare that Christmas is simply a secular holiday about shopping and cutting down pine trees (holding against the Christian faith)... on the other hand it couldn't describe it as a celebration of the birth of Christ (endorsing Christianity). Instead it walked the line, ultimately declining to, as the Court itself describes it, "play the role of the Grinch."

Image: Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza, New York, 2006. Author: Alsandro - Under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 license.

5 comments:

  1. John savage Crowne-FosterDecember 19, 2010 at 2:24 PM

    Part 1
    Yet the fed govt named it 'christ'mas day. So, maybe the problem is not with the fed gov declaring a day off for it's employees at a time when many cultures celebrate their respective mid-winter* holy days, but the fact that they used one particular culture's cult** figurehead to name it after! Doing so implies the christian cult is paramaount and thus smacks of indoctrination: they did in fact pass a law respecting an establishment of religion, to wit, the christian one. That a court undoubtedly primarily composed of christians, who had been indoctrinated all their lives by this religion, ruled in favor of christmas does not neccessarily mean it is a just and constitutional law as they obviously were unable to rise above their lifelong prejudice in the case. Maybe, it should be re-tried before a more ecelectic judge and jury comprised of a single representative from all major cult groups. By this I mean 1 christian (not 1 from each sect of the cult), jew, muslim, buddist, hindu, pagan, atheist, agnostic, etc.. I suspect that the outcome may be a bit different if this were to happen.. If this makes me come accross to the close minded and ignorant of the christian cult as the grinch who stole christmas, then so be it (btw, I'm not namecalling, these are just factual descriptions of the mentality of the people who would do so). I think that the court acted in extremly bad taste by using a silly poem referencing said grinch considering that Theodor Seuss Geisel was a lifelong lutheran christian and he was writing about the christian holyday (is wasn't the grinch who stole hannauka or solstice etc.!). That kind of behavior is the same as the school bullies, backed by their sychophants, calling their outnumbered victem(s) of the momment derogatory names and making other disparaging remarks that have no substantial relevance whatsoever to the matter of disagreement between bully and victem. Isn't one of our most cherished principes of government that, although the majority rules in any vote, the minority should be protected from abuse by said majority, ie. when the facsist minded and acting (look up the deffinition of facsist in a dictionary from 20 years ago, before the corporate mind induced it's subtle change you see in today's dictionaries, and you will see that, again, this is not baseless namecalling but, rather, factual description) republicans controlled all three branches of our government they couldn't then pass legislation outlawing their opposing democratic party?

    *a time of extreme significance that goes back through the millions of years of our evolution, long before there were any governments or organised religious groups
    **by deffinition ALL religions are cults

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  2. John Savage Crowne-FosterDecember 19, 2010 at 2:26 PM

    Part 2

    So, before you all jump on me, understand I'm not trying to take away christmas from anybody, just pointing out it shouldn't be rammed down our collective throats by federal mandate, it's bad enough with the commercial advertising onslaught we get year round. Come on, people, with all the advancement in knowledge and technology we have today, with all the really serious issues we face, esp. global degradation of of earth's life sustaining ecology, isn't it time we, as a species, grew up and moved away from basing our lives on our respective collections of fairy tales and superstitions that have proved to be spurious in nature so many times over and, instead, use reason, logic, and compassion to shape our collective future? We could at least start by eliminating the hypocracy of telling our kids not to lie, punishing them when they do, then tell them something that they will eventually be so disappointed to discover is a whopper of one! No wonder so many pre teens and teens think their parents are so full of crap and tune out to anything actually usefull their parents could tell them. And, after that, we could, maybe, start telling them the actual truth about the history of this country instead of the white-wash myths we get in our federal mandated public 'school' (indoctrination) system's American History and Government classes- we could start by making _Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong_ by James Loewen, Ph.D. (a former colloge history professor and currently Visiting Professor of Sociology at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC) a required textbook in all American schools. Hopefully, if we do this, we will, except fot the facsist and or theocratic control freaks, possibly start to... have a nice life!

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  3. Thank you for your comments John. I responded to some of your points in a new post: http://www.lawfficespace.com/2010/12/is-christmas-federal-holiday.html

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  4. I am not your "typical" Christian, but I must say that the spirit of Christmas and all it represents lives in my heart. I am 42. I am a parent, a teacher, a coach, a business owner. This time of year brings upon me a sense of compassion and caring that does meet the essence of Christ and the spirit of Christmas. Why is this bad. Why must we take this global feel away from our youth. What are we really afraid of? I think it is ourselves.

    Merry Christmas Phil and John

    Kelly

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  5. If the holiday was taken away, enough people would request it off as a personal day. Might as well, leave well enough alone.

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