Happy Holidays

This year with the Holidays (dreadfully) slowly approaching all we hear about on tv are the Holidays; occasionally specified to Christmas and Hanukkah, but typically without.

Since the United States was formed, religion and the separation of Church and State has been a constant battle. Many institutions like schools and businesses want to recognize the month of December because of the major holidays that lie within it, but controversies rise annually around this time in regards to religious displays and their appropriateness in government-funded and public places.

Court decisions have not been very clear on what they are allowing and what they aren’t in public displays. A court decision in Pawtucket, Rhode Island ruled that a Christmas nativity scene in a municipal square was constitutionally acceptable in the mid 1980s because of the scene’s secular significance, and argued that allowing the scene in a government-funded place does not promote Christianity, but recognizes the historic value in it.

Since the 1980s, though, the courts have been allowing and prohibiting different displays left and right. The cloudy grounds of what is considered constitutional and what isn’t has a lot of people guessing this season on what can be put on display and where.

Some states have done away with all decorations in government-funded places altogether to hopefully hinder all disputes in regards to religion in public places. Washington State, as of 2009, has banned all religious displays at their Capitol building due to Atheist remarks posted near the Christmas tree and Menorah that were always present during the Holiday season.

This video shows the story in more detail:

Is this a democratic move for the state of Washington?

Civic Republicans wouldn’t think so.  They would appreciate the Atheist display as an act of political participation, but in a Civic Republican Democracy, the beliefs of the majority rule over the minority, and as of a poll taken in 2007 of the United States, 78.4% of adults practice Christian traditions, 1.7% of adults practice Jewish traditions and only 1.6% of adults were considered unaffiliated Atheists. The gaps between those practicing religious traditions and those who aren’t are quite large and the majority obviously does not lie with the unaffiliated Atheists. So although the Civic Republicans would love the participation and protest, the law shouldn’t have been passed since the majority of the population does not support it.

Classic Liberals would look at this in a different way; a means similar to how the courts view cases currently. Classic Liberals are very focused on the individual instead of the group and especially individual rights. During cases in regards to expression of religion, the first amendment is used as backing for why displays should be allowed, with the “Wall of Separation,” explaining the separation of Church and State, as the rebuttal.  Unless banning religious displays in the Capitol Building spreads to banning religious displays in individual homes and businesses, no individual rights are breached and Class Liberals aren’t concerned.

In our country today, do you think banning all religious displays in the Capitol building of Washington State was democratic and constitutional?

Sources:  http://pewforum.org/Church-State-Law/Religious-Displays-and-the-Courts.aspx , http://www.uri.edu/personal/hbak9412/Reldis.htm

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3 Responses to Happy Holidays

  1. vanessabarton says:

    This is such a great post! It’s always on people’s minds around this time of year especially at elementary schools. They want to have projects and crafts that can be taken home and put on display during the holiday season. I remember how upset I was as a child when they changed the winter break title of Christmas break to holiday break. Last year especially Hanukkah fell just before the kids were even let out of school. I think it’s interesting what you brought up about the capitol building however I think it would be the other way around. I think Classic Liberals would support the ban saying that individual rights are paramount and people should feel free to practice which ever religious holiday they feel or not and for the government to make suggestions by display would be unconstitutional. I also think that civic republicans would see holidays as a way to bring a community founded on the same ideals together. Holidays promote cheer and well being for the community. I see your point about majority and minority and participation, I just feel that deeper into the meaning of the holidays show how people truly feel about them.

    On a personal note I think especially in schools making decorations for each of the major holidays is the best option rather than do away with them. I am Catholic but learned the dradle song in music class. If you want to separate church and state then start with something more obvious like prayer in school, not banning Santa who is not a religious figure.

  2. arlaurin says:

    I agree with Vanessa in saying that learning about each religion’s holidays is and was the best option. My school also did things for each holiday even though I lived in a very (sadly) NON-diverse area and I think the amount of people celebrating Hanukkah could have been counted on one hand. But that did not matter. And honestly, I was BEYOND excited to hear and learn about the other religions as a kid. It meant more class parties 🙂

    I think that the capital building should be able to put up Christmas decorations. Maybe it should even be up to the current president… it is his house. That is just something to think about. They are decorations, not forcing a religion on someone, therefore I wouldn’t say it is unconstitutional.

  3. bradenburgess says:

    I think this is a great post because it is timely and so engaging. The United States was founded on the notion that the government would never become sectarian. The founders knew of the European religious wars and how absolutely deadly they were. They did not want the new government to be controlled by a religious sect. They, without a doubt, wanted a secular government.

    Some people today, as the blogger rightly describes, are vehemently opposed to any religious symbolism being present on government property. Some states and localities have made moves to ban all religious symbolism from government property. From my understanding of Constitutional and American history, I believe that religious displays on government property are lawful. The founders established a secular government, but I doubt they intended on prohibiting religious expression on governmental or public ground. Placing a Menorah or a Christmas Tree or a Manger on public property does not equate to the state establishing an official religion. That can only be done through legislation.

    Furthermore, I think the argument that religious symbols “offend” atheists and agnostics, to the point where the symbols should be prohibited, borders on the ridiculous. Reasonable people should be able to understand that human beings will have conflicting opinions on the divine. That has always been the case. As a classic liberal, I believe in the freedom of expression, and I oppose any efforts to stifle that expression, whether or not it is religious in nature.

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