December 29, 2014 | Commentary on Religion and Civil Society, Religious Liberty, Legal Issues

There is no law against the presence of Christmas

There are at least two things you can count on when it comes to Americans and Christmastime. One is that they like to put up Nativity scenes. The other is that they don’t like being told what to do, especially by outsiders.

So you can imagine how the residents of an Indiana town feel about a Wisconsin-based atheist group demanding that they remove the Nativity scene they have displayed by the Franklin County Courthouse every holiday season for the past 50 years.

Never mind tradition. Forget the fact that most of the residents of Brookville, Indiana, like the Nativity scene and want it up. The Freedom From Religion Foundation is here to out-Grinch the Grinch with a patently absurd message: the Nativity scene violates the separation of church and state.

Check your U.S. Constitution. Peruse your Bill of Rights. That phrase is not there, and for a good reason: We’re guaranteed freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. We have no official state-sanctioned church, but the notion that we are to expunge every trace of religious belief from the public square is an unconstitutional invention by those who are either misinformed or hostile to religion.

If the people of Brookville want a Nativity scene by the courthouse, there is no legal reason they can’t have one, no matter how much the Freedom From Religion Foundation might like to get rid of it.

“If people don’t like the look of it, I think they can look the other way or don’t look at all,” Brookville resident Wayne Monroe told WLWT. “It’s been a tradition here for many, many years, and I hope it’s for many more years. I think we deserve the right to put up what the community wants, and I don’t think anybody else should tell us what to do.”

Unfortunately, the people of Brookville aren’t alone. There is so much confusion about what’s legal and what’s not when it comes to Christmas that bland “holiday greetings” have become commonplace. Many people would rather be safe than sorry.

I’m sure such reticence gladdens the hearts of certain militant atheists (as opposed to the ones who genuinely have no issue with everyone else celebrating their faith), but it’s wrong. No wonder two state lawmakers in Texas — one Democrat, one Republican — felt the need to hold a joint press conference to remind everyone that it’s legal to say “Merry Christmas.”

“With Christmas around the corner, our goal is to educate the public on this state law so that our teachers and students are able to celebrate the upcoming holiday season without fear of retribution or punishment,” said Rep. Dwayne Bohac, author of a “Merry Christmas Law” that passed the state legislature in 2013.

It’s sad that such a reminder is necessary, but Mr. Bohac said he drafted the law after learning that his son’s school was going to display a “holiday tree” out of fear that “any mention of Christmas could spark litigation.”

Another tack for those who want to roil the public waters at Christmastime? Demand “equal time.” Visit the Florida Capitol building, and you’ll see Christmas trees and a menorah — and a display from the Satanic Temple that shows an angel falling into the flames of hell. There’s also one from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It “worships” pasta and meatballs.

The groups in question may deny the obvious mockery, but it’s easy to see why Pam Olsen of the Florida Prayer Network asked: “Are they really putting them up to wish everyone a happy holiday from the atheists and the Satanists, or are they up there to protest baby Jesus?”

Regardless, what matters is that the rest of us celebrate our faith — without fear. As Ron Anderson, another Brookville resident, told WLWT: “It’s His birthday. We need to celebrate that and remember that. When you start taking [rights] away, we lose track of who we are as American citizens.”

Merry Christmas, everyone.

 - Ed Feulner is founder of The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
Founder's Office

Originally appeared in The Washington Times