March 24, 2018

"The Seventh Circuit found an Indiana high school’s Christmas Spectacular concert constitutional after the school added Hanukkah and Kwanzaa songs and replaced its live nativity with mannequins."

"The parties put us in the uncomfortable role of Grinch, examining the details of an impressive high school production. But we accept this position, because we live in a society where all religions are welcome," wrote U.S. Circuit Judge Diane Wood, reported in Courthouse News Service.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation and ACLU of Indiana sued the school in October 2015 over the event, claiming it “represents an endorsement of religion by the high school and the school corporation, has no secular purpose, and has the principal purpose and effect of advancing religion,” in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause....

“The religious nature of the nativity and the songs do not come off as endorsement in part because they make up only a fraction of the Spectacular, which as configured in 2015 is primarily a non‐religious seasonal celebration,” Wood said. “The Santas, jingle bells, and winter wonderlands of the first half all promote the secular aspects of the holiday season.... This would have been an easier case if the Christmas Spectacular had devoted a more proportionate amount of stage time to other holidays. But ultimately, we agree with the district court that in 2015 Concord sincerely and primarily aimed to put on an entertaining and pedagogically useful winter concert.” 

50 comments:

PB said...

Kwanzaa is not a real religion.

tcrosse said...

No Festivus ?

Ann Althouse said...

"Kwanzaa is not a real religion."

It's a holiday, not a religion, but it seems to be offered as religion. Does that make it more or less of an Establishment Clause problem? Surely, you don't think it's the role of judges to determine with religions are real and which are bogus?

That's my favorite religion and the Constitution question (and I taught the subject for 15 years).

Ann Althouse said...

@ tcrosse I'm glad you brought up Festivus. I was talking with Meade the other day and he said something that made me say: "You've discovered the true meaniing of Festivus." I'll leave it to him to explain, but this came up in the context of discussing the ending of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (when Linus stands there and recites the Biblical passages on the birth of Christ).

the 4chan Guy who reads Althouse said...

"“The Santas, jingle bells, and winter wonderlands of the first half all promote the secular aspects of the holiday season.... "

Perhaps the appropriate Christmas Spectacular would then be the recreation of a Wal-Mart at 2:00 in the morning on Black Friday.

The Germans have a word for this.

Unknown said...

If all religions are welcome, then they should be welcome on their own terms, not the State's. If the Christmas play is required to include Hanukkah and Kwanzaa then Christianity is clearly not welcome. If Jewish family's want a Hanukkah play, then have one, and don't require them to include Christianity. Have three separate extravaganzas.

Paddy O said...

"Surely, you don't think it's the role of judges to determine with religions are real and which are bogus?"

Isn't that what they're doing? It's the implicit assumption that runs all throughout. Are Christmas songs religious in and of themselves? Some are, some aren't. Assuming Christmas is inherently religious is a determinations of what a religion is.

My favorite question for the World Religions classes I've taught is "What is a religion?" I'd have a lot of confident answers the first week. I'd have few if any confident answers the last week.

The trouble with the Establishment clause in our day and age is that it was instituted when Christianity and Judaism were the only present religions (for the most part), and it is referring to State Churches.

The other trouble is that there's a significantly amount of religions in our day and age that aren't called religions because judges have decided what religions are religions and what religions are not religions. Anything with a distinct orienting philosophy in guiding human self and society functions as a religion, but those are left out in the definitions, because judges.

Hagar said...

I hope Mr. Justice Hugo L. Black is comfortably warm where he now resides.

Leland said...

Does Freedom from Religion Foundation recognize the concept of "free exercise thereof"?

Can Of Cheese for Hunter said...

Christmas is a Christian holiday. If you're offended by it, don't celebrate it or partake in any Christmas activity.

tcrosse said...

I was talking with Meade the other day and he said something that made me say: "You've discovered the true meaniing of Festivus."

It's a Festivus Miracle !

Rabel said...

"after intermission turns to more traditional hymns such as “Christ in the Manger,”

Followed by "Christ on a Cracker." Maybe there's a traditional hymn by that name that I'm unfamiliar with but that's a hell of a mistake if the song is actually "Away in a Manger."

Ann Althouse said...

The trouble many of you are intuiting is that the law is already structured so that diluting the religiosity of the display is what helps make it acceptable in this government-sponsored context. If you want to keep religion religion-y, get it away from government sponsorship. The idea of the wall of separation was originally a perception of religion as a garden, apart from the wild world and in need of a wall to keep invaders from ruining the very things that make it a garden.

Rabel said...

"the law is already structured so that diluting the religiosity of the display is what helps make it acceptable in this government-sponsored context"

Sounds like a Devil's Bargain to me. But what would I know.

Sebastian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sebastian said...

"we live in a society where all religions are welcome" Where does the Constitution say that?

@AA: "The idea of the wall of separation was originally a perception of religion as a garden, apart from the wild world" But the idea was not part of the Constitution, which left states free to put up walls or not.

Congress shall make no law, therefore public schools must include Kwanzaa in Christmas displays.

Fernandinande said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael K said...


Blogger Ann Althouse said...
"Kwanzaa is not a real religion."


Kwanzaa is a hoax by blacks which seems very appropriate at this season of celebration.

Fernandinande said...

replaced its live nativity with mannequins

So it was converted into a fashion modeling show?

The Germans Have A Word For That. said...
The Germans have a word for this.


My grandfather converted to Nazi Occultism, which is one word in German, because they wouldn't let atheists join the SS.

Anonymous said...

AA: ...but this came up in the context of discussing the ending of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (when Linus stands there and recites the Biblical passages on the birth of Christ).

For some reason (same era?) that reminded me of this. Probably violated the E.C. and no doubt inflicted great butthurt on certain citizens, but I guess it's beyond the reach of relief.

I remember it fondly.

Fernandinande said...

Ann Althouse said...
[which] religions are real and which are bogus?


All of 'em are both.

tim maguire said...

If including other religions is what makes it constitutional, then they all need to be included or it's not good enough.

I don't know what Kwanzaa is supposed to be, but I still stifle a laugh every time someone talks about it like it's real. Kwanzaa is as real as festivus.

n.n said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
etienne said...

Your tax dollars at work. Please pass on to Cardi-B for updates on her tax money!

n.n said...

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

Ironically, the Court is in violation of the Constitution, but they are not technically Congress.

The Atheists are prone to conflating logical domains, and do not properly discern faith, religion, and tradition. Any statement that claims fidelity outside of a limited frame of reference in time and space is an article of faith. Any statement describing a behavioral protocol is religious. Any practice or custom that is progressive (e.g. generational) is tradition.

Ann Althouse said...

"@AA: "The idea of the wall of separation was originally a perception of religion as a garden, apart from the wild world" But the idea was not part of the Constitution, which left states free to put up walls or not."

My point was simply that if you want pure and vigorous religion, you need a garden that walls out the government. If you want to intermix government and religion, you will be making religion impure and weedy with worldly intentions. The constitutional law will let you do that, but I am saying you might want to choose not to do that, lest you get your Christmas presentation watered down with bits and pieces of other religions, religion-y things, and governmental indoctrination to make it what the 7th Circuit approved of, "an entertaining and pedagogically useful winter concert.”

I am speaking of the background understanding that reflects on why provisions were put in the Constitution, in case you're interested in doing some sort of original intent/original meaning interpretation OR in case you want to get involved in the policymaking decisions of the governmental institutions that compel children to go to school and offer them what purports to be an education.

Luke Lea said...

Why can't Jesus be accepted as a uniquely important historical figure in our culture and civilization and his birthday celebrated in schools on that basis? You don't have to declare him the son of God even if that is the way he was and is viewed by many. Kwanzan should have nothing to do with it.

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ccu91wcovedefH6WbdWaEz6F_uzvy8tab7GHoZBv1BQ/edit?usp=sharing

etienne said...

Public schools being used to teach anything more than reading, writing, and arithmetic, are nothing more than indoctrination (brainwash) centers.

The only response is to shut them down, and use them to house the homeless, bums, and wino's.

Americans have turned the mandated public school system into nursery centers.

walk don't run said...

By any measure, Jesus of Nazareth is one of the most influential human beings in the history of the world. I would argue with some justification that he was and continues to be the most influential. Isn't it strange and bizarre that we disallow the teaching and sharing of his life, beliefs and doctrines at public schools supposedly dedicated to education and enlightenment? I am doubtful that this occurs in any other discipline. It shows you how downright stupid our society can sometimes be.

Meade said...

"I was talking with Meade the other day and he said something that made me say: 'You've discovered the true meaniing of Festivus.' I'll leave it to him to explain..."

That's not for you to know.

Howard said...

I have no problem with sharing of the Pagan Winter Solstice celebration of the great snowy north with the desert monotheistic myth. It's all made up shit. Kwanza, Festivus, Hanukkah, St. Nick, St Claus, the Elves, Reindeer, Roast Beast, the sacrificial pine tree. The more, the merrier. All people have a need to brighten up the long dark night with fun and celebration. Who would Jesus exclude?

mandrewa said...

I believe that many of our schools are in reality part of a religion that is expanding rapidly, that is already the state religion, and that is threatening to become the majority religion in the United States.

This is a fuzzy statement that I need to tighten up and express more rigorously. I am not saying that education is a religion. I'm talking about the ideology that many or even most teachers share. It's a world view that defines what is important and what is not, and is learned and taught as a matter of faith. It also is a value system that says some things are good and some are evil. The concept of God is not part of our state religion, but then there already ideologies, that we accept as religious, that only approximately have the idea of God.

I don't think it's possible for people to not be religious. We live in what is in reality an extremely complicated world and we do not even remotely have the time to think about and individually construct our beliefs. At best in a good life a person may examine and question some part of what they were taught and believed when they were young. Religious beliefs simplify and impose an order and a value system on the world, and they are taken on faith.

So if Christianity is dying, then something else has to replace it.

The tenants of our new state religion shouldn't be that difficult to discover. Just go to our schools of education and look at the dominant ideology the new teachers are being taught. Although I'm sure there are exceptions, I believe most colleges are teaching the same ideology.

This circumstance subverts the Constitution, where the people writing that document took for granted the many different and competing religions of Christianity. Their intent was to prevent the establishment of a national state religion. Understand that this was a revolutionary idea, because basically everywhere else in the world, government, meant, and included a state religion, where, usually, people who reject the state religion are persecuted and even killed.

So this was a huge part, really, of what made the United States different. And now we are losing it because of the ideological conformity of teachers.

Birches said...

I think if I were Jewish I would be super annoyed that the community offered Hanukah as some sort of Christmas equivalent. It would seem a lot more authentic to do some sort of Purim songs in the Spring.

bgates said...

in need of a wall to keep invaders from ruining the very things that make it a garden

Not much support in the government for that idea, popular though it may be.

ga6 said...

Kwanzaa, from the church of making shit up:

Maulana Ndabezitha Karenga,[2][3][4] previously known as Ron Karenga, (born July 14, 1941) is an African-American professor of Africana studies, activist and author, best known as the creator of the pan-African and African-American holiday of Kwanzaa

Howard said...

mandrewa: The popularity of the blockbuster superhero/science fiction genre in film, TV, comic books and graphic novels has replace religion among the young who are hungry for these mythological stories.

Hagar said...

The plain reading of the Establishment Clause is that Congress shall not mess with people's (or states') religion, whatever it may be. If the 14th Amendment "incorporates" the Bill of Rights onto the states, that still only means that nor should the state legislatures mess with their citizens' religion or practice thereof.
And of course, since the executive departments, federal or state, are obliged to obey the Constitution and laws, they cannot either - according to the Constitution as written and adopted, that is.

Justice Black by force of personality and persistence manged to turn the interpretation of the 1st Amendment on its head, but that does not mean the Supremes will not in time come to their senses and revert to the original meaning of the Amendment.

Michael K said...


Blogger Etienne said...
Public schools being used to teach anything more than reading, writing, and arithmetic, are nothing more than indoctrination (brainwash) centers.

The only response is to shut them down, and use them to house the homeless, bums, and wino's.

Americans have turned the mandated public school system into nursery centers.


Incompetent nursery schools, I might add, if Florida is any example.

Hagar said...

There is no good reason to mess with other people's religion other than establishing who has got worldly dominance. Egos and guns.

Rabel said...

Show us on the Crucifix where the Preacher Man touched you, Howard.

rcocean said...

Christians surrendered the public square a long time ago.

Who cares anymore.

All this Judge Worship is nowhere in the original constitution. But 'murcians love their Kings in Judicial robes.

Skipper said...

Now judges are programming musical presentations for us. Is there nothing these politically-connected mediocre lawyers in black robes can't do?

Sebastian said...

"My point was simply that if you want pure and vigorous religion, you need a garden that walls out the government." My point was simply that nothing in the actual Constitution has anything to do with Christmas displays in public schools.

"If you want to intermix government and religion, you will be making religion impure and weedy with worldly intentions. The constitutional law will let you do that," Correct, as I said--the "purity" view was not consensual at the founding, hence the possibility for states to intermix as they saw fit.

"I am saying you might want to choose not to do that, lest you get your Christmas presentation watered down with bits and pieces of other religions, religion-y things, and governmental indoctrination to make it what the 7th Circuit approved of, "an entertaining and pedagogically useful winter concert.”" You might want to do that in a manner that reflects the beliefs of the actual majority in an actual state, in accordance with the actual Constitution, the without a federal court lacking authority on the subject intervening. (As a tolerant non-Christian, I have no strong personal opinion on the desirability of Christmas displays.)

"I am speaking of the background understanding that reflects on why provisions were put in the Constitution, in case you're interested in doing some sort of original intent/original meaning interpretation OR in case you want to get involved in the policymaking decisions of the governmental institutions that compel children to go to school and offer them what purports to be an education." I am speaking of the historical situation that generated limits on Constitutional jurisdiction without requiring unanimity across the states. I was also alluding to policymaking decisions by governmental institutions that should not be subject to authority the federal courts illegitimately arrogated to themselves.

YoungHegelian said...

It is just strange for someone outside of the discipline of the Law to hear of these cases on the separation of Church & State. I understand that the Law tries its damnedest to get its definitions tight. It deals in the realms of jurisprudence & societal reality, where the idea of a "rational observer" can hold sway, just like in economics the idea of a "rational economic actor" can be used.

The problem from a philosophical point of view is that it's a real issue in the history of Western thought as what exactly constitutes a "theological" concept. Hegel thought that all western philosophy had been "polluted" (my word, certainly not his) by Christianity, & that that was a point in its favor. Nietzsche thought Christianity was "Platonism for the Masses" & that Platonism & Christianity had mucked everything up. Heck, Heidegger even came up with a term for the muck-up:Onto-Theology. And this isn't a concern only on the Continental side of things. Analytic philosophy, too, has its discussions of the issue of theological concepts in philosophical thought.

To see the Law, or anyone else for that matter, think that by excluding open sectarianism from the public square that they are excluding "God Talk" is just naive. It's not only naive, it's socially harmful, since it unintentionally privileges discourses that are either willingly ignorant or lie about their "onto-theological" origins (e.g. Marxism). At least, when a believer thumps his Bible, you know full well the source of his moral maxims. Many believers in "secular moral reason" not only assume such a thing exists (a dubious assumption at best), but they also expect you to pay obeisance to whatever turd they have just pulled out of their ass & polished up as if it was the most obvious of moral judgements.

YoungHegelian said...

Ooops!

Dropbox link on the Heidegger went wiggy. The relevant paper starts on page 41.

iowan2 said...

Another example of the courts ignoring federalism. This is not a federal case. This is a state case that at very worst should only be decided by the state legislature, the best is school board. Judges have so many contradictory opinions now, it is impossible to have any confidence that your actions will be approved of by any given judge(s)

n.n said...

Many believers in "secular moral reason" not only assume such a thing exists (a dubious assumption at best), but they also expect you to pay obeisance to whatever turd they have just pulled out of their ass & polished up as if it was the most obvious of moral judgements.

I consider two religious/moral axioms: individual dignity and intrinsic value. The former is the basis for classical liberal thought and the latter is an integrated corollary of the evolution of human life (from conception). And, of course, one fitness function: duck dynasty.

gadfly said...

We Hoosiers are supposedly racist and anti-Muslim and anti-LBGTQ because we have passed audacious laws intended to level the playing field for Christians to have the same rights as interloper religions. But we cannot seem to influence Hoosier judges to stay out of the business of our conservative legislators.

Christopher said...

What I find funniest in all of this is that in their attempt to spotlight other faiths, they've pretty much altered the holiday they're supposedly spotlighting.

Hanukkah is a minor holiday in no way comparable to Christmas and the importance it holds for Christians. The attention it receives is greatly disproportionate to it's relevance to Jews and has pretty much distorted how they observe it.

It's like trying to make "America Recycles Day" (yes, it's real) the equivalent of Thanksgiving because they both happen to fall in November.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Birches,

I'm with you there; Purim is more comparable to Christmas. (And we need to remember that the Puritans were violently anti-Christmas; Thanksgiving was instituted specifically as a Christmas substitute.)

Christopher, as you say, Hanukkah isn't Christmas, and its entire importance now has to do with where it fits in the calendar. Kwanzaa ditto, of course, but there it was by design.

When will Muslim holidays join the brigade? It's difficult, because they don't line up at the same time every year, like the others do. Eid al-Fitr might be any day.