Working to Conquer the Religious Freedom 'Grinches'

The anti-religion Grinches are out in full force this Christmas season. In fact, Christmas has become a dirty word in many areas of society as groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State continue to instill their vision of a Godless public square on our nation.

Mathew Staver, president and general counsel for the Orlando, Fla.-based Liberty Council, is on the frontlines of the religious freedom battlefield. He has reported on just a few religious freedom outrages going on right now.

In Wisconsin, for example, public school officials have mandated that students must amend "religious" words in Christmas carols they will sing during a concert. The students have been prohibited from using words that refer to "Jesus" or "God" and instead must substitute "secular" words and phrases.

In Michigan, public school officials recently separated all "religious" books on the holidays (Hanukkah and Christmas) and placed them in a separate room. These books are now out of sight and out of reach of the students, Mr. Staver said.

Public school administrators in Georgia have instructed employees that they may not conduct any Christmas-related activities, including reading from Christmas books or making Christmas decorations. Even red and white candy canes have been barred because of the religious story behind the origin of the Christmas treat.

Our friends at the Citrus Heights, Calif.-based Pacific Justice Institute reported that a high school in Fountain Valley informed students that they could not wear clothing expressing religious messages (such as "Jesus is the Way"), even though Muslim students were permitted to wear headscarves.

And the folks at the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Thomas More Law Center have brought a case against New York City schools after officials barred Christmas displays while simultaneously authorizing Jewish menorahs and the Islamic star and crescent during their respective holidays.

Recently, Mat Staver announced that Liberty Counsel had launched a nationwide campaign to prevent blatant religious discrimination during the holidays. Liberty Counsel will bring lawsuits against any governmental agency that discriminates against the public displays of religious symbols or songs, and has also announced that it will defend any governmental entity that abides by the Constitution and allows the equal expression of religion views.

He could have his hands full because instances similar to those above are taking place across the nation.

It's important for Americans to understand what is constitutional in regard to public Christmas displays.

Publicly-sponsored nativity scenes on public property are constitutional as long as there is a secular symbol of the holiday that appears as part of the display.

In other words, says Mr. Staver, the government may publicly display depictions of Mary, Joseph and Jesus if the display includes a depiction of Santa Claus, for example.

In addition, students in public schools may sing Christian Christmas carols such as "Silent Night" or "Away in the Manger" as long as they also sing secular songs about Rudolph or Frosty.

On the other hand, privately-sponsored nativity scenes displayed by private citizens or groups are constitutional and do not require any secular symbols.

Moreover, Mr. Staver says that individual students may sing Christmas carols relaying the message of Christ as part of an overall presentation where other students are allowed to sing secular carols. In addition, public schools may not prohibit access to religious books such action discriminates against the religious viewpoint of the message contained in the books. And public employers may not discriminate against staff workers by prohibiting Christmas celebrations.

Liberty Counsel has a history of successfully defending religious individuals against persecution and bullying by employers and schools. Last year, the organization successfully represented six Massachusetts high school students who were suspended for distributing candy canes bearing a message about the Christian origin of the candy. In the case of Westfield High School L.I.F.E. Club v. City of Westfield, 249 F. Supp.2d 98, 124 (D. Mass. 2003), the court struck down the school policy, reinstated the students, and required the school to pay almost $30,000.00 in damages.

Many people want to outlaw Christmas and the message of Christ's unspeakable gift of His only Son to mankind, but they don't have legal grounds to enact their narrow and deceptive course of action against those who publicly embrace this wondrous story.

Individuals who face religious discrimination this Christmas season should contact Mat Staver at Liberty Counsel. The organization has an assembly of attorneys that practice law across America, often without charge.

Liberty Counsel: 407-875-2100 or http://www.lc.org


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