Each Advent season brings a new flurry of news stories and court battles over Christmas. Whether it’s a homeowner’s association telling a family, “You can’t put up those Christmas decorations” or a school telling a student, “Don’t play that Christmas carol because it’s too religious,” December brings a new round of Scrooges and Grinches trying to stop any public celebration of Jesus’ birth.
And every Advent season, we are thankful again for groups that work to defend our religious freedom and free speech.
Take our friends over at First Liberty, for example. For years, a nativity scene was part of the Christmas celebration in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, along with other holiday lights and displays. The nativity is now owned and set up by the local Knights of Columbus (KOC), a public service group. Last year, the Grinches at the city council ordered the crèche removed.
First Liberty went into action, sending a letter to the city, asking them to change their policy. They told the city that “both the blanket ban on religious displays” and the specific ban on the KOC Christmas display were viewpoint discrimination, violating the First Amendment. They told the city council, “It is well established that the speech protections of the First Amendment extend to displays like the crèche,” pointing to other legal precedent.
First Liberty is also fighting a homeowner’s association that told a family they couldn’t set up a Christmas display. And the organization is working on behalf of a 13-year-old girl “who was told she could not perform an instrumental version of “Joy to the World” at her school because the song is too religious.” Bah! Humbug!
Another legal advocacy group, Liberty Counsel, is pushing back against the Scrooges who banned residents of a Missouri housing development from putting up Christmas lights and yard decorations. The residential development is subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the residents are all aged 55 and older.
MACO Management Company prohibited the lights and displays, telling residents they were following “Government’s Fair Housing rules.” As if, like the Grinch, the company could steal all the Christmas decorations. But Liberty Counsel sent a protest letter to MACO, saying, “HUD certainly has no policy preventing religious decorations during the holidays or otherwise. In fact, its policy is the exact opposite.”
Liberty Counsel cited HUD’s policy, which states, “The holiday season is an opportunity to celebrate our diverse traditions and faiths. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development continues to strongly support and respect the display of all religious symbols on properties receiving HUD assistance. We discourage anyone from interfering in the free exercise of religion and prohibiting residents from celebrating the joys of the season.”
MACO responded by saying their own lease agreements prohibited outdoor Christmas decorations. Liberty Counsel responded by saying that wasn’t the case and demanded that the ban be repealed by close of business Thursday, December 19.
The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is another group we’re thankful for. ADF has worked, since its founding in 1994, to ensure our religious freedom is not stolen. The group has battled to keep religious songs in school performances, to allow a fifth grade girl to hand out invitations to a Christmas party at her school, and to allow a high school boy to hand out candy canes with a legend about the candy’s Christian origins.
Several years ago, ADF sent a letter to more than 13,000 school districts, explaining that the First Amendment allows for the performance of Christmas carols in public schools. The letter also made clear that public schools may cooperate with Christian groups in community service projects.
Despite that, school officials often misinterpret the Constitution and stifle free speech and religious freedom. City officials and businesses sometimes do likewise, and each Christmas brings more stories about Christmas carols or trees or crèches or lights being banned. Sometimes even the word “Christmas” is censored.
Of course, like the “Whos down in Whoville” or like Bob Cratchet’s family in “A Christmas Carol,” we don’t need all those trimmings and external symbols to celebrate our Savior’s birth. But they do help make the season bright, and it’s good to know there are groups working to protect our religious liberty and freedom of speech.
In the meantime, we can pray for the Scrooges in our world to be transformed by God’s grace, that they will learn “how to keep Christmas well.” And we can intercede for the Grinches, asking God to grow small hearts three sizes bigger.