Religious Holidays


Religious Holidays Essay, Research Paper

Questioning the Constitutionality of Celebrating Religious Holidays at Public Expense. It is unconstitutional for local, state or federalgovernments to favor one religion over another? Government can show favoritism toward religion bydisplaying religious symbols in public placesat taxpayer expense, by sponsoring events like Christmasconcerts, caroling, or by supporting the teaching ofreligious ideas. It appears the United Statesgovernment has had a history of favoring Christianity. The United States government’s favoritism of Christianityis a clear violation of the First Amendment. This amendmentstates that “Congress shall make no law respecting anestablishment 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 severalStates shall be bound by oath or affirmation to support this Constitution,but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to anyoffice or public trust under the United States.” There have been several court cases on this and related issueswhich 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 Educationcase, the Supreme Court ruled that the 14th amendmentprevented the States and the and the Federal governmentfrom setting up a church, passing laws that favor any religion, orusing tax money to support any religion. Justice Hugo Black”incorporated” the First Amendment’s establishment clause into the14th Amendment which states that “the State shall not deny anyperson within its jurisdiction the equal protection of laws and dueprocess. After this trial, people began to question whether schoolprayer was constitutional (pg. 93-94, Klinker). The “creche case,” Lynch vs. Donnelly, came fromRhode Island in 1980. In this case, the city offical includeda creche, or nativity scene, in their city’s annual Christmasdisplay that included all traditional Christmas symbols. Chief Justice Warren E. Burger represented the court’s opinionwhen he stated that, “Nor does the constitution requirecomplete separation of church and state; it affirmativelymandates 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 anativity scene in the city’s display is. . . to place the government’s imprematureapproval 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 highcourts prohibiting the promotion of particular religious ideas, and thespending of tax dollars on events that promote particular religious views. A logical extension of this pattern can be made to the spending of taxdollars for decorating towns on religious holidays, such as Christmas. Local, state, and federal governments attempt to getaround the prohibitions of the Everson and Lynchcases by decorating the streets in town with non-religious symbolssuch as lights, trees, wreaths and other objects that symbolize theseason. But, religious people think the season itself has religiousmeaning. Using tax money to decorate for a religious holidaynot celebrated by everyone is unconstitutional becausethese symbols support one religion over no religion. The First Amendment prohibits this. We understand that public school prayer discriminatesagainst some religious views so it is prohibited in publicschools. Similarly, Christmas concerts play a role similarto the teaching of creationism and prayer. The Christmasconcerts subconsiously influence students toward the beliefs ofChristianity. To be fair to non-Christian groups, converting”Christmas” concerts to “Holiday” concerts would maintainthe “separation of church and state.” One could recognize the beliefs of many religions or none. Onecould play music from several religions or non-religious music. Religion is a personal belief. There are so manyreligions to choose from, including the choice of noreligion. It is impossible to decide that onebelief is right and another is wrong. So it isreasonable to say that it is unconstitutional forgovernment to favor Christianity over other religions,including Athieism. Instead of using tax dollars todecorate the streets for the holidays, we could usethe money for other things like playgrounds andhelping the homeless. Also, students could playmusic that has no religious meaning to pleaseevery belief or offend none. This way, governmentwould be prevented from favoring one religion over another. Henry, Richard, “Government in America”,Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1994pg.141, 146, 148. Klinker, Philip A., “The American Heritage History ofthe Bill of Rights”, Silver Burdett Press., 1991pg. 99-100, 109, 93. “Darrow, Clarence Steward”, “The American PeoplesEncyclopedia vol.6 “, Grolier Incorporated, New York1962, 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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