For the last several years, the Thomas More Law Center, a national nonprofit public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has been successfully defending the right of Christians to display nativity scenes on public property and to celebrate Christmas in public schools. In years past and still today, the Law Center has asked thousands of supporters to go on the offensive – where there has been no nativity display before, ask the government for permission to erect one; where the government has allowed a religious display of another faith, ask that a nativity display be erected on the same property as well; where there is a public forum for the exercise of free speech, ask for permission to erect a nativity display.
Every year the Law Center sends its hundreds of affiliated attorneys across the nation a legal memo on how to deal with the war on Christmas in their area. The Law Center has successfully defended the proper celebration of this national holiday in numerous cases.
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Law Center commented, “The ACLU’s war on Christmas is really a war on Christians. With few exceptions and then only to create a diversion from their real target, the ACLU avoids going after religious symbols of other faiths. Despite the fact that over 80 percent of Americans are Christians, the ACLU has bullied elected representatives and school officials to eradicate the public celebration of Christmas under threat of lawsuits. Municipalities and schools should be aware that the systematic exclusion of Christmas symbols during the holiday season is not warranted, and such exclusion itself could be inconsistent with the Constitution and subject them to a possible lawsuit.”
As part of its Christmas Campaign, the Law Center has asked its supporters to petition their local governments in writing for permission to erect nativity displays. Law Center staff attorneys are standing by to assist in the petition, and if legally appropriate, to file a federal lawsuit should they be denied.
In 1984, Chief Justice Warren Burger had this to say in his opinion upholding the city of Pawtucket, Rhode Island’s nativity display:
“It would be ironic, however, if the inclusion of a single symbol of a particular historic religious event, as part of a celebration acknowledged in the Western World for 20 centuries, and in this country by the people, by the Executive Branch, by the Congress, and the courts for two centuries, would so ‘taint’ the City’s exhibit as to render it violative of the Establishment Clause. To forbid the use of this one passive symbol – the crèche – at the very time people are taking note of the season with Christmas hymns and carols in public schools and other public places, and while the Congress and Legislatures open sessions with prayers by paid chaplains, would be a stilted over-reaction contrary to our history and to our holdings. If the presence of the crèche in this display violates the Establishment Clause, a host of other forms of taking official note of Christmas, and of our religious heritage, are equally offensive to the Constitution.”
According to the Law Center:
- The display of a nativity scene, as with any religious symbol, by a private person is religious speech that the First Amendment protects.
- The First Amendment protects private speech most strongly in a traditional public forum, such as a public park, or in what is known as a designated public forum, which is public property the government has designated for public assembly and speech.
- There should be no unreasonable prohibitions against public school students wishing each other “Merry Christmas,” distributing Christmas cards, or wearing clothing displaying a religious message.
- It is constitutionally permissible for schools to permit the study and performance of religious songs in its public schools, in order to promote the legitimate educational goal of “advancing the students’ knowledge of society’s cultural and religious heritage.”