Jonathan Morgan handed out candy canes with the story of Jesus to his fourth-grade classmates in Plano, Tex., on Friday. But it took a court order.
After years of legal assaults on municipal displays of Nativity scenes and Christmas observances in public schools, Christian groups are now mounting court challenges in the other direction.
I’m no fan of using the courts to litigate social issues. However, this is an issue that comes up precisely because the courts have been used to litigate social issues, so it seems like the most appropriate place to banish this affront to freedom. It really comes down to the bumper sticker logic — freedom of religion is not freedom from religion. You can’t have a freedom that infringes on another. That means that you can believe or not believe in whatever you want — but you can’t force someone to say give up their beliefs.
“The pendulum has swung completely,” said Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the nonprofit First Amendment Center in Arlington. “There’s a push-back by many conservative Christians, perhaps emboldened by the recent election and by the increasing presence of evangelical Christianity in the public arena. They’re saying the secularization of our society and public schools has gone too far and become hostility to their religion.”
And they are right. I’m not a Jesus Schmooker. I don’t even consider myself Christian anymore. It is impossible for me to ignore, however, how radically opposed a small minority of people are to anything even remotely Christian, and that small minority has been in control for too long. The opposition minority certainly has the freedom to ignore and even speak out against the Christians — but they don’t have the right to try to silence the Christians because it makes them uncomfortable. (If that is the case, Islam watch out.)
The Plano school district’s lawyer, Richard Abernathy, maintained that school administrators can impose reasonable restrictions on the “time, place and manner” of students’ religious speech.
“This area is predominantly white, and it’s predominantly Christian. Frankly, it’s pretty conservative Christian,” he said. “We have to be careful, though, that those students who are Hindu or Islamic or Jewish don’t have their rights trampled on.”
Doug Morgan said his son was a victim of “political correctness spiraling out of control.” He noted that the school had informed parents that only white paper plates and napkins — no Christmas red and green — would be allowed at the generic “Winter Break” party.
“They are so determined not to offend anyone,” he said, “that we’re being silenced and made to feel that what we want to share is not appropriate to share in a public environment.”
You can’t protect the rights of certain groups by trampling the rights of everyone. The Hindu students won’t be offended by someone giving them candy. The Muslim and Jewish students won’t be offended. In my experience, the only ones who get offended are a small percentage of intolerant atheists (who are themselves a small minority of atheists.) You do not have a right to not be offended, because that “right” would impose upon the real right to free speech and religion, and rights cannot conflict.
Barry Lynn, executive director of the advocacy group Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the “new strategy of the Christian Right is forced inclusion — they take a secular display and demand that Christian symbols and carols be added.”
Christian talk radio, Lynn said, is fueling a “huge movement saying there is a war against Christmas both by the government and by private business, which I think is nonsensical, because unless you live in a cave in America in December, you know it’s Christmas.”
Funny — to say that it is “forced inclusion”, by definition means that the status quo was forced exclusion, which says everything you need to know about the situation. I would disagree that the war is between Christmas and government and business. The war is between the religious and the anti-religious.