Beliefnet
Lynn v. Sekulow

Barry, the First Amendment does not require the government to strip the public arena of references to holidays that the vast majority of Americans observe.

 

In the Rhode Island case you referred to, the Supreme Court noted that “[i]t would be ironic . . . if the inclusion of a single symbol of a particular historic religious event, as part of a celebration acknowledged in the Western World for 20 centuries, and in this country by the people, by the Executive Branch, by the Congress, and the courts for 2 centuries, would so ‘taint’ the city’s exhibit as to render it violative of the Establishment Clause. To forbid the use of this one passive symbol–the crèche–at the very time people are taking note of the season with Christmas hymns and carols in public schools and other public places . . . would be a stilted overreaction contrary to our history and to our holdings.” Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668, 686 (1984).

 

In other words, it is not improper for the government to acknowledge and recognize a variety of aspects of the holidays, including their religious origins, just as it is permissible for the government to acknowledge the role the Ten Commandments have played in the development of American law and history.

 

When the government creates a forum for private expression, as is the case in Olympia, Washington, First Amendment free speech rights come into play. That an atheist group may have a right to post a sign in some instances, however, does not insulate the message conveyed from public discussion and criticism. Proclaiming that “there are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell” and that “religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds” is extremely offensive to millions of Americans. Those offended by this attack on their faith have every right to express their strong disagreement with this message.

 

Barry, I think it is much better to allow discussion and debate, as in Olympia, than to have a sanitized holiday season where there are no displays for fear of offending someone. As Justice Holmes famously stated, people should realize that “the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas–that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out. That at any rate is the theory of our Constitution.” Abrams v. United States, 250 U.S. 616, 630 (1919) (Holmes, J., dissenting).

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