It’s Christmas season – which not only means Christmas lights and carols but more instances of pushback on any mention of “the reason for the season” or the celebration of Christmas – especially in public schools.
Sadly, every school district may not fully understand the issues which sometimes results in the school improperly preventing students and teachers from celebrating Christmas. Our Independence Law Center was involved in a case to protect a 5th-grader’s rights regarding a Christmas event. A Pennsylvania public school denied this student the opportunity to hand out invitations to a church Christmas party while permitting other students to pass out invitations to other events, such as birthday parties.
One would have thought that this issue would have been worked out once the school administration was made aware of the selective censoring of a student’s speech. Instead, the school argued that censoring the child was right, that the student was a “little troublemaker” and fought the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals. The judges held the school was unconstitutionally suppressing the student’s expression.
This is just one example of how a public school can attempt to censor Christmas. So what are students and teachers allowed to do during the Christmas season? Here’s a Q & A rundown regarding the Constitutionality of Christmas celebrations in public schools:
Can students provide invitations to a Christmas party – even if it’s held at a church?
Yes – if a school district welcomes students to distribute invitations to events (like birthday parties) during recess or in student mailboxes, you are well within your right to give an invitation to a Christmas party.
What about invitations to a Christmas Eve service?
Yes. Even if invitations are to attend a function at a church or synagogue, a student expression through this invitation is within their right.
Can my student hand out free tickets to a religious play?
Yes – same answer as to the Christmas party or Christmas Eve service. Policies and administrative decisions that violate the Constitution by censoring students are unfair.
What about religious gifts or candy canes that have religious content?
If students are allowed to distribute gifts at a school party, then the school cannot bar children from giving religious gifts. If a teacher or school administrator prohibits a gift because of its religious message, then they are demonstrating unconstitutional religious hostility.
Can my public school celebrate “Christmas”?
Just as they can celebrate “holiday” or “winter” festivities, public schools can celebrate Christmas as long as the school is not celebrating for the purpose of furthering Christianity. They are not obligated to do so. Celebrating Christmas can also have educational purposes – such as teaching about the effect of religion on culture.
Can my school “deck the halls” in Christmas decorations?
Any school is allowed to display Christmas decorations as a teaching resource and to create the understanding of cultural and religious heritage of the holiday.
Can my choir sing Christmas music at school concerts?
A school is welcome to use religious art, music and drama at school-sponsored functions so long as it is presented in an objective manner that relates to the traditions of Christmas.
Are students allowed to talk about their faith in their assignments?
The First Amendment protects freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Students can express these freedoms in any of their assignments. A student’s work should be graded on academic standards, not on religious content.
Can teachers wear symbols of Christmas or religious belief, like a cross?
Even though law unfortunately limits a teacher from displaying many religious symbols like a Bible in the classroom, the court has declared teachers are allowed to wear a cross around their neck or other symbols that may represent a religious faith. Most recently, after a parent’s complaint, it was deemed permissible for a Middle School teacher in Enola to wear a Star of David necklace.
Can teachers and school staff talk about Christmas and their religion outside of the classroom?
Any school employee has the right to promote their religion outside of school functions. That includes before and after school, during break times and anytime in their private life.
Just because your children go to public school doesn’t mean they have to keep their Christmas spirit hidden in their lockers. And just because you teach in public school doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate Christmas.
Pennsylvania Family Institute, through the Independence Law Center, is here to help students, teachers, individuals, churches and businesses protect their First Amendment and religious freedoms. on a pro-bono basis. To request assistance, call 717-657-4990 or go to independencelaw.org/request-help.
And to help us provide this service pro-bono, we greatly would appreciate your financial support. To make a donation, call us at 717-545-0600 or make a secure online donation here.