To the Editor:
Around this time of year, the “War on Christmas” and the “War on the War on Christmas” once again enter the public discourse, with each side claiming support from assorted statistics and anecdotes.
Though there are certainly some who inexcusably exaggerate threats to public religious expression and others who claim there is no hostility to Christianity, we must ask the obvious: If there is no hostility to public religious expression, what has prompted fears that Christmas is being stamped out?
Our legal system leaves a paper trail that can help us find an answer – from it, we can observe how hostile actors have used that system to attack religious expression in the public square.
Looking back over this year, the law has been both good and bad in its treatment of public religious expression. Twice, the Supreme Court has affirmed that faith cannot be confined to Sunday morning worship, but extends to one’s business and to government settings. On the other hand, small business owners who want to live quiet and peaceable lives are still not being left to do so, but instead are being fined and threatened with jail time for not approving of marriages between two people of the same sex.
Meanwhile, hostile atheist and humanist activist groups continue to try to scrub every bit of religious expression from the public square – most recently by attacking the voluntary recital of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools as unconstitutional.
After years of failed challenges in federal courts, the activist groups have turned their attention to state courts. Just last month, oral arguments were heard in a case brought by the American Humanist Association in a New Jersey state court alleging that the public school recital (which is already optional for students) of the Pledge of Allegiance violates the Equal Protection Clause of the New Jersey Constitution. The group’s reasoning? Because the Pledge makes mention of “God,” those who do not believe in God are somehow suffering unequal treatment under the law.
Those wary of a war on the public expression of faith – including the “War on Christmas” – can be excused for their concern.
In the face of such attacks, how are the fears of the many Americans concerned about hostility to religion to be alleviated?
Not easily. While there have been a few important wins at our nation’s highest court this year, many negative trends in the law – which are reflected in our culture – have multiplied at other levels. And these lawsuits and other incidents represent only some of the more recent attempts to suppress public religious expression using our legal system.
For years, the Establishment Clause has been interpreted by legal activists and judges alike in twisted ways requiring that mention of God and other religious expression be removed from the public square. This interpretation would seem bizarre to Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, who once observed that “at the time of the adoption of the constitution … the general, if not the universal, sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the state.”
Family Research Council