Government Sponsoring Religion
It is unconstitutional for local, state or federal governments
to favor one religion over another? Government can show favoritism
toward religion by displaying religious symbols in public places
at taxpayer expense, by sponsoring events like Christmas concerts,
caroling, or by supporting the teaching of religious ideas. It appears
the United States government has had a history of favoring
The United States government's favoritism of Christianity is a
clear violation of the First Amendment. This amendment states that
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof." There is another reference to
religion in Article 6, Section 3. This clause states "the United
States and the several States shall be bound by oath or affirmation to
support this Constitution, but no religious test shall ever be
required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the
There have been several court cases on this and related issues
which include Engel vs. Vitale, Everson vs. the Board of Education,
and Lynch vs. Donnelly, the "Creche case".
In 1947, in the Everson vs. Board of Education case, the
Supreme Court ruled that the 14th amendment prevented the States and
the and the Federal government from setting up a church, passing laws
that favor any religion, or using tax money to support any religion.
Justice Hugo Black "incorporated" the First Amendment's establishment
clause into the 14th Amendment which states that "the State shall not
deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of laws
and due process. After this trial, people began to question whether
school prayer was constitutional (pg. 93-94, Klinker).
The "creche case," Lynch vs. Donnelly, came from Rhode Island
in 1980. In this case, the city offical included a creche, or nativity
scene, in their city's annual Christmas display that included all
traditional Christmas symbols. Chief Justice Warren E. Burger
represented the court's opinion when he stated that, "Nor does the
constitution require complete separation of church and state; it
affirmatively mandates accommodation, not merely tolerance, of all
religions, and forbids hostility toward any." Justices Brennan,
Marshall, Blackman, and Stevens dissented. They thought the "primary
effect of including a nativity scene in the city's display is. . . to
place the government's impremature approval on the particular
religion's beliefs exemplified by the creche." They argued that it
clearly violated the First Amendment (p. 99, Witt).
These cases demonstrate a pattern of Constitutional thought by
high courts prohibiting the promotion of particular religious ideas,
and the spending of tax dollars on events that promote particular
religious views. A logical extension of this pattern can be made to
the spending of tax dollars for decorating towns on religious
holidays, such as Christmas.
Local, state, and federal governments attempt to get around
the prohibitions of the Everson and Lynch cases by decorating the
streets in town with non-religious symbols such as lights, trees,
wreaths and other objects that symbolize the season. But, religious
people think the season itself has religious meaning. Using tax money
to decorate for a religious holiday not celebrated by everyone is
unconstitutional because these symbols support one religion over no
religion. The First Amendment prohibits this.
We understand that public school prayer discriminates against
some religious views so it is prohibited in public schools. Similarly,
Christmas concerts play a role similar to the teaching of creationism
and prayer. The Christmas concerts subconsiously influence students
toward the beliefs of Christianity. To be fair to non-Christian
groups, converting "Christmas" concerts to "Holiday" concerts would
maintain the "separation of church and state."
One could recognize the beliefs of many religions or none. One
could play music from several religions or non-religious music.
Religion is a personal belief. There are so many religions to choose
from, including the choice of no religion. It is impossible to decide
that one belief is right and another is wrong. So it is reasonable to
say that it is unconstitutional for government to favor Christianity
over other religions, including Athieism. Instead of using tax dollars
to decorate the streets for the holidays, we could use the money for
other things like playgrounds and helping the homeless. Also, students
could play music that has no religious meaning to please every belief
or offend none. This way, government would be prevented from favoring
one religion over another.
Henry, Richard, "Government in America", Houghton Mifflin Company,
Boston, 1994 pg.141, 146, 148.
Klinker, Philip A., "The American Heritage History of the Bill of
Rights", Silver Burdett Press., 1991 pg. 99-100, 109, 93.
"Darrow, Clarence Steward", "The American Peoples Encyclopedia vol.6
", Grolier Incorporated, New York 1962, pg. 796.
Witt, Elder ,"The Supreme Court and Individual Rights", Second
Edition, Congressional Quarterly Inc., Washington D.C., 1988, pg. 99