ADF educates school districts on constitutionality of Christmas

School districts tread on dangerous legal ground if they stifle religious expression of students with regard to Christmas
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SCOTTSDALE – Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an alliance-building, Scottsdale-based, nonprofit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to live out their faith, sent a legal memo and myth/fact sheet to over 13,000 public school districts nationwide to explain the constitutionality of recognizing Christmas, participating in Christmas-related events and allowing various forms of Christmas expression.

ADF is also offering free legal assistance to districts that need help.

ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco stated, “The Constitution allows and protects the celebration of Christmas in public schools. School districts do not have to remove religious references from their calendars. They should not violate the First amendment by stifling student expression about Christmas.”

nativityHe pointed out districts “can and should allow religious Christmas carols to be part of their school productions,” while lawfully being able to help impoverished children through community service projects such as Operation Christmas Child, a Samaritan’s Purse International Relief project, which, since 1993, has provided 113 million shoeboxes full of gifts, including toys, school supplies, hygiene items, accessories and more, to needy children throughout the world.

Its mission statement: “Samaritan’s Purse is a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world. Since 1970, Samaritan’s Purse has helped meet needs of people who are victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease, and famine with the purpose of sharing God’s love through His Son, Jesus Christ.”

According to ADF a South Carolina charter school cancelled its participation in Operation Christmas Child last year after a humanist group threatened the school with legal action.

Meanwhile, school districts in Wisconsin and South Carolina that wrongly censored Christmas carols in school productions changed their position following public outcry and letters from ADF explaining the permissibility of including religious carols.

ADF explains how many school officials believe such religious expression is a violation of the “separation of church and state,” which it notes is a phrase often misused in connection with the “Establishment Clause.”

As a result, school officials across the country, whether intentionally or as a result of being misinformed, have denied students and teachers their constitutional rights of religious speech and expression under the false premise the Constitution requires them to do so.

ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot stated, “No court has ever ruled that the Constitution requires school officials to censor Christmas carols, eliminate all references to Christmas or silence those who celebrate Christmas. On the contrary, school districts tread on dangerous legal ground if they stifle religious expression of students with regard to Christmas.

Theriot said he hopes, as in previous years, the materials ADF is providing to school districts will clear up the misinformation that has existed on the issue “for far too long.”

A December 2013 Pew Research poll found 90 percent of Americans say they celebrate Christmas.

In December 2011, a Rasmussen poll indicated 79 percent of American adults believe public schools should celebrate religious holidays.

ADF’s memorandum quotes the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech …” and serves to restrict the government’s ability to suppress speech and expressive activity, including religious expression.

It also quotes the U.S. Supreme Court from a 1995 opinion in Capitol Square Review and Advisory Bd. V. Pinette: “Our precedent establishes that private religious speech, far from being a First Amendment orphan, is as fully protected under the Free Speech Clause as secular private expression. Indeed, in Anglo-American history, at least, government suppression of speech has so commonly been directed precisely at religious speech that a free-speech clause without religion would be Hamlet without the prince.”

ADF’s memo cautions districts how needless acts of censorship not only violate the Constitution but hurt students who sincerely want to share their faith with their friends as it explains how public school officials can avoid violating the Constitution if they understand a few basic rules about religious speech.

The memo spells out what the Supreme Court and federal courts have said on these Christmas questions and dispels the myths that have prompted school officials to needlessly suppress religious expression.

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