John Leo

How goes the annual battle to delete Christmas from schools and the public square? News is mixed, but on the whole, things are not going well for the Grinches. In New Jersey, for example, the Hanover Township school district said it was considering a ban on Christmas carols and other religious songs at school concerts. Parents protested and threatened to sue, so the school board beat a hasty retreat. “If a school wants religious music, they can have it, the way they could before,” said the school board president.

The key phrase here is “threatened to sue.” In the old days, when an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer would show up to hammer some tiny school board into submission, the legal costs of resisting were so high that the boards usually caved in. Now the anti-Grinches have legal muscle of their own. The Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund, which supported the Hanover parents, claims to have 700 lawyers ready to fight anti-Christmas assaults around the country. The ADF ( played a lead role in blocking an attempt by the ACLU and the Anti-Defamation League to force a charter school in Elbert County, Colo., to ban religious songs from its holiday concert. The Anti-Defamation League said the school’s program was harming the sense of well-being of Jewish students. But how harmful can it be to sing six Christmas carols, two Hanukkah songs, and a lot of ditties about Rudolph and Frosty?

In Plano, Texas, a school district refused to allow a third grader at a class party to hand out candy canes with a religious message attached. The Liberty Legal Institute ( and the ADF jumped in last week and demanded that the district back down, arguing that “public schools are not zones of religious censorship.”

The Thomas More Law Center of Ann Arbor, Mich. (, supported a parent’s legal challenge to the New York City public schools’ policy that allows the Islamic star and crescent and the Jewish menorah (which the Anti-Defamation League concedes is a religious symbol) but not Christian religious symbols such as a Nativity display. The schools’ chancellor offered a tortured argument in court: The menorah has a “secular dimension” large enough to qualify as nonreligious. The judge, who was caustic about the school policy during arguments, is expected to rule any day.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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