I got email today from a reporter for “The Christian Post.” He wanted to ask me some questions about my opinions expressed yesterday on Raw Story. I am not familiar with this reporter’s writing, but thought it might be a bad idea to go into a phone conversation cold. So I wrote a message to him first, and I’m reproducing it here for discussion.
When I talked to the Raw Story correspondent yesterday it was a little off the cuff — we were kidding around a bit, and I wasn’t sure how he was going to quote me, but he obviously wanted a hostile reaction for the readers to play with. I hadn’t read the bill in detail, but I wanted to make sure I had my facts straight before I got back to you. So I’m writing this message so that I don’t have to remember everything over the phone.
My main reaction was based on the fact that the law — to the extent that it is Constitutional — appears to be unnecessary and frivolous posturing, which accomplishes nothing more than to repeat rights that are already granted and only wasting the legislatures time. Some aspects of it may turn out to be unconstitutional, but as I am not a lawyer, I can’t comment authoritatively on that.
I looked up the ACLU’s position on nativity scenes. There was a case in 1989, County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union, in which the Supreme Court ruled that a nativity scene was not allowed on public land when it clearly has the primary purpose of advancing a religion, as expressed in the very well known Lemon v. Kurtzman (source of “the Lemon test”). The fact that a menorah was also included wound up making the decision “complex and fragmented” as Wikipedia described it. However, the court ruled that the presence of alternate holiday symbols did not make the openly religious imagery constitutional. Writing the majority opinion, Justice Blackmun stated that “government may celebrate Christmas in some manner and form, but not in a way that endorses Christian doctrine.” Then despite the presence of competing religious symbols, he wrote “The display of the creche in this context, therefore, must be permanently enjoined.”
The ACLU wrote a position paper about holiday displays, with which I heartily agree:
“The constitutional rights of people to worship, preach, sing carols, and celebrate Christmas in their churches and with their families and friends — whether in public or in private — is well-protected. The ACLU itself has advocated on behalf of people who want to celebrate Christmas. The real question is not whether people can celebrate Christmas (they most certainly can), but whether the government should be promoting religious beliefs and practices (it most certainly shouldn’t).”
The text of the Texas bill states that
“…a school district may display… a Christmas image such as a nativity scene or Christmas tree, if the display includes a scene or symbol of (1) more than one religion; or (2) one religion and at least one secular scene or symbol.”