John Leo

The annual assault on Christmas comes in many forms. First, there is the barrage of litigation by the American Civil Liberties Union, which is reliably offended by almost any representation of Christianity in the public square. Small towns, facing the prospect of expensive litigation over religious displays on public property, often cave in simply out of fear. Part of the intimidation is that if the towns lose, they must pay the legal fees of the ACLU. But now religious-liberties legal groups provide attorneys to stand up to the ACLU. The Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund won in federal court last month in a suit filed by the ACLU against the city of Cranston, R.I. Cranston allows religious and secular displays of all kinds on the front lawn of City Hall.The ACLU argued that this was a church-state violation, but U.S. District Judge William Smith ruled that nothing in the evidence ?reveals or even remotely supports an inference that a religious purpose was behind the creation of the limited public forum.?

Another standard anti-Christmas maneuver is to argue that all references to Christmas in public schools are suspect, while references to Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, for whatever reason, are not. The policy of the 1,200 New York City public schools is that no purely religious symbols are allowed, only ones that have a ?secular dimension,? such as Christmas trees, menorahs, and the star and crescent. But the star and crescent is hardly secular. It is the symbol of Islam. And the menorah, though now losing some of its religious significance, is the symbol of an intervention by God to save the Jewish people. The Thomas More Law Center filed suit on behalf of a Roman Catholic mother of two public-school students, saying, in effect, that if the city?s public schools are allowing brief and educational use of religious symbols for Muslims and Jews, then the Christian cr?e should be permitted, too. Last February, U.S. District Judge Charles Sifton ruled for the school system. The case is under appeal. The cr?e, for now, remains banned.
Like New York?s schools, Bay Harbor Islands in Florida refuses to allow a Nativity scene on public property but has menorahs and the Star of David on lampposts and permitted a local synagogue to erect a 14-foot-high menorah on public land.

John Leo

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

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