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12/2/2013 - Dec 2013 SLI Educational Update - Christmas Rules in Public Schools and Elsewhere



 To:                  SLI Supporters                                  

 Date:               December 2013  

From:              A. Eric Johnston

Re:                  Christmas Rules in Public Schools and Elsewhere

Last month’s Educational Update addressed the rights of public school students to pray on public school property.  An Alabama county school board questioned the practice of “See You at the Pole” which began in 1990.  We were surprised at this, but it reminded us that we must never sleep on our rights.  With this reminder, we believe it is a good idea that we visit religious rights at Christmas.  It has been many years since we have listed those rights.  The following is a list of “The Twelve Rules of Christmas:”[1]

1.      Public school students’ written or spoken personal expressions concerning the religious significance of Christmas (e.g., T-shirts with the slogan, “Jesus Is the Reason for the Season”) may not be censored by school officials absent evidence that the speech would cause a substantial disruption.

2.      So long as teachers are generally permitted to wear clothing or jewelry or have personal items expressing their views about the holidays, Christian teachers may not be prohibited from similarly expressing their views by wearing Christmas-related clothing or jewelry or carrying Christmas-related personal items.

 3.      Public schools may teach students about the Christmas holiday, including its religious significance, so long as it is taught objectively for secular purposes such as its historical or cultural importance, and not for the purpose of promoting Christianity.

 4.      Public school teachers may send Christmas cards to the families of their students so long as they do so on their own time, outside of school hours.

5.      Public schools may include Christmas music, including those with religious themes, in their choral programs if the songs are included for a secular purpose such as their musical quality or cultural value or if the songs are part of an overall performance including other holiday songs.

6.      Public schools may not require students to sing Christmas songs whose messages conflict with the students’ own religious or nonreligious beliefs.

 7.      Public school students may not be prohibited from distributing literature to fellow students concerning the Christmas holiday or invitations to church Christmas events on the same terms that they would be allowed to distribute other literature that is not related to schoolwork.

 8.      Private citizens or groups may display crèches or other Christmas symbols in public parks subject to the same reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions that would apply to other similar displays.

9.      Government entities may erect and maintain celebrations of the Christmas holiday, such as Christmas trees and Christmas light displays, and may include crèches in their displays at least so long as the purpose for including the crèche is not to promote its religious content and it is placed in context with other symbols of the Holiday season as part of an effort to celebrate the public Christmas holiday through its traditional symbols.

10.   Neither public nor private employers may prevent employees from decorating their offices for Christmas, playing Christmas music, or wearing clothing related to Christmas merely because of their religious content so long as these activities are not used to harass or intimidate others.

 11.   Public nor private employees whose sincerely held religious beliefs require that they not work on Christmas must be reasonably accommodated by their employers unless granting the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer.

 12.   Government recognition of Christmas as a public holiday and granting government employees a paid holiday for Christmas does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

 Christmas is one of the most important times of the year for Christians.  Secular society has done all that it can to dampen that enthusiasm and to redirect our celebrations to the secular and selfish.  Christmas offers a message of hope for all men.  Christians not only have a right to celebrate Christmas in the public square, they have an obligation to do so.  We encourage anyone, including public officials, to contact us if they require further clarification.  We will be glad to provide advice at no charge.  We wish everyone a very Merry and Blessed Christmas.

[1] These Rules were published by the Rutherford Institute on December 6, 2011 and they should be given full credit for them.  This compilation of rules is based on a number of court decisions and statutes. 


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