Nate Kellum

Christmas is a wonderful time of year. Lights and carolers, sleigh rides and family gatherings, colorful trees and presents that bring a sparkle to children’s eyes. It is a time of giving and a time of cheer, and for many, it truly is “the most wonderful time of the year.”

Sadly, however, the Christmas lights have been turned off and the jingle bells silenced at Hollings Cancer Center in Charleston, S.C., as this season rolls around. Why? Because someone took offense at a volunteer dressed as Santa, and the decision-makers at the cancer center – apparently concerned about the “so called separation of church and state” – decided the best way to respond to that was to ban all “commercial and religious aspects” of Christmas this year.

However, what this center – and all public institutions – need to understand is that it is perfectly constitutional to permit employees and volunteers to spread yuletide cheer during a season that is marked as a federal holiday called Christmas. When over 93% of Americans celebrate Christmas, it makes no sense to let one person spoil this season of celebration for the rest.

Moreover, to ban Christmas is to deprive the patients at the HCC an extra dose of joy in their lives – something that only those who’ve been impacted by cancer may fully appreciate.

Yet there will be no carolers caroling and no Mrs. Claus walking around with a basket of candy canes to pass out to passers-by.

If you think about it, there’s no telling how much good a chorus of children’s voices singing “Joy to the World” or “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” could accomplish for a lonely soul whose prognosis is not great. How far could a “Ho, Ho, Ho” or a Christmas candy cane or an image of the baby Jesus in his manger go toward sprinkling a bit of hope into the lives of some who may otherwise be hopeless in this world?

While the HCC has somewhat relented and lifted the ban on Santa—which is a good start – the ban on religious aspects remains, which includes a specific ban on nativity scenes. Perhaps the governing body at HCC hasn’t stopped to think that the very word Christmas is religious in nature—literally Christ’s Mass or the Mass of Christ—thus attempts to have Christmas without religious connotations are somewhat silly. (It would be akin to having an Independence Day celebration on July 4 in which the mention of independence or 1776 or America’s severed ties with England were all banned.)

The bottom line: the HCC has Constitutional protection and a real opportunity here to bring joy into the lives of the patients at the cancer center, simply by lifting the ban on the “religious aspects” of Christmas.

Nate Kellum

Nate Kellum serves as chief counsel with the Center for Religious Expression.