During what is often referred to as the holiday season, a variety of cultures and religions honor an equally diverse number of both religious and secular traditions. Christmas, Hanukkah, and Bodhi Day are just some of the religious holidays that are celebrated this time of year. And for many who don’t subscribe to a particular faith tradition, the season is still seen as an occasion to gather with friends and family.
No matter why you are celebrating this holiday season, we can all celebrate living in a country where religious freedom is a fundamental value. The First Amendment’s Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses not only protect the right to believe (or not to believe), but also the right to express and to manifest religious beliefs.
In honor of our country’s proud history of promoting religious freedom, and the ACLU’s commitment to protecting the rights of all religious believers to practice their faith, this holiday season we are highlighting 12 cases we have brought on behalf of a variety of faiths defending religious liberty and the right to religious expression.
Twelfth Day: Standing Up For Christmas
Invariably during the run-up to Christmas, the ACLU is wrongfully disparaged for waging a mythical “War on Christmas.” In fact, the ACLU zealously defends the right of both non-believers to practice no religion at all and religious believers, including Christians, to practice their religion freely. And the ACLU’s zeal certainly does not take a vacation during the holidays.
In 2003, The ACLU of Rhode Island interceded on behalf of an interdenominational group of carolers who were told they could not sing Christmas carols on Christmas Eve to inmates at the women’s prison in Cranston, RI. Because of our efforts, the prison relented and the prisoners were treated to caroling.
That same year, the ACLU of Massachusetts sued on behalf of a group of high school students who were disciplined by school officials for distributing candy canes with religious messages just before Christmas. The students, members of the school’s Bible Club, each received a one-day suspension for handing out the candy canes. The ACLU argued that the school’s actions interfered with the free speech rights of public high school students under both state law and the First Amendment, which proects their speech as long as it does not disrupt the educational process.
Religious expression is a valued and protected part of the First Amendment rights guaranteed to all citizens. Christmas is pervasive in our society, both publicly and privately, and, except when the government is being used to promote and favor religious beliefs, it is entirely constitutional. Read more