Texas Governor Rick Perry would like to put the Christmas back in school (and presumably, the Christ back in Christmas.) But is this desire of his legally on the up-and-up?
Perry states that the Constitution does not provide Americans with freedom "from" religion. Let’s take a look at that. While the First Amendment does say that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” a later Supreme Court decision, Everson v. Board of Education, states, “The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion to another ... in the words of Jefferson, the [First Amendment] clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect 'a wall of separation between church and State' ... That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach.”
So what does this mean for Rick Perry? Well, it doesn’t look too good for the Texas governor, as he wants to protect only one set of “people of faith,” Christians. No longer being fed to the lions by Roman pagans, no longer being set upon by marauding anti-crusaders, Christians are among the world’s least persecuted people. Their freedom of expression is not impinged, save for one area of the state — the school system.
Now, there’s nothing that says they cannot pray in school. There’s nothing that says they cannot keep Christmas in their heart every day, in the manner of a reformed miser of the Dickensian variety. If every Christian boy and girl wants to sign off their homework with the phrase “God bless us, every one,” he or she is free to do so. Religion need not be absent from the people, merely from the teaching of the public school system.
Perry states that the Christians feel their freedom of expression is constrained because of the reactions from certain people, both inside and outside of the community. He obviously missed the memo about actions having consequences.
See, the Founding Fathers were aiming at fairness, and they had just come from lands where they were persecuted for setting up their own religion, so in creating the First Amendment they decided that the official religion of the United States should be no religion at all. Fairness. If Rick Perry wants to celebrate Christmas in school, why not Hanukkah? Why not Kwanzaa? Why not Ramadan and Eid? Why not Diwali? Or Saturnalia? Would incorporating all those various celebrations of faith be confusing, disruptive to the academic calendar, and unfair to some members of the school community who do not celebrate them?
I love Christmas too. I really do. I want my Christmases flamboyant, with presents and cookies and a huge turkey with all the trimmings. I love candlelight and huge trees and sparkly ornaments. However, this is for me, and me alone, to seek out. It is not the responsibility of the school system to ensure that my Christmas is a merry one.