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Essay/Term paper: Celebrating religious holidays in public

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Religion

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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 Christianity.

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 United States."

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 

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