As an employee of the ACLU, you come to realize quickly that Christmas is a time for correcting misguided assumptions on the work of our organization. Before my time here, family and friends sent the chain email that pleads with people to send ACLU Christmas cards and to make sure to write “Merry Christmas!” Further, I’ve overheard the conversations that ACLU is creating a “war on Christmas.” Since beginning my work here, most family and friends have respected me and my job enough to learn more about ACLU and correct made-up notions of what we do here.
However, even though many people will take the time to study and learn about ACLU and the U.S. Constitution, I had a Facebook friend recently attack our work via a Facebook note. Without bothering to check facts and the law, the Facebook friend asked me why ACLU of Pennsylvania would require a courthouse to remove a crèche and menorah from the front lawn. She ended her attack by saying, “This is why I don’t like the ACLU.” At first, I was going to ignore such a blatant disregard for me and my work, but I realized confronting her with the facts could turn this negative situation into a very positive one. I could inform the Facebook masses about our work and create a positive conversation about the work that the ACLU does. Taking the time to respond to a criticism of the ACLU, allowed me to further understand why the work we do is so important and why I am so passionate about our work.
As a religious person, I treasure the work that the ACLU does to keep government out of religion. Religious expression – during the holidays and throughout the year – is a valued part of the First Amendment rights guaranteed all citizens. But government should never be in the business of endorsing things like religious displays. Religion is best served when the government plays no role in promoting any particular holiday or any individual religious tradition. That job is best suited for individuals, families and religious communities. For when that decision is left in the hands of individuals and kept out of the hands of the government, those who decide to are truly free to celebrate the religious holiday of their choice. That is why the ACLU works to ensure that government is neutral when it comes to religion, and opposes any government endorsement of any religious display.
As an American, I treasure the U.S. Constitution. Under the law of this country, the government is prohibited from endorsing religion – any religion – because to do so is to say that religion is good, and that those endorsed are better than others. A crèche and a menorah together send the message that people should believe in one or the other, without recognizing that millions of Americans subscribe to other religious traditions or to none at all. The Constitution and Supreme Court rulings are very clear that government may not favor religion over no religion or one faith over others.
I love this time of year at the ACLU of Louisiana. It is a time for me to appreciate the 1st amendment and all the rights it affords me to practice a religion of my choice, and it is a time for me to correct and answer misguided notions about our work-a work which I fiercely and irrevocably believe is important!
[Correction: The Facebook user was originally quoted as saying, “This is why I hate the ACLU.” It was corrected at the user’s request.]