As we excitedly anticipate Thanksgiving and Christmas, you may wonder if your children will be limited in celebrating because of their religious beliefs. Unfortunately, some schools view children entering their gates as children entering their kingdom, a kingdom where religion has no place.
That’s what happened a couple years ago when we were contacted by a family whose child had been told she could not hand out nativity-themed rubik’s cubes during her class’ winter party. Thankfully, Independence Law Center was able to step in, as we have for several other similar cases, and the school allowed the girl to hand them out the next day!
Religious exercise should not be treated as a poison. Students are able to pray, they can talk about their faith, and they can bring their faith into discussions at school and in school projects. Students don’t have to hide their faith. They are able to make use of every opportunity to bring Christ into school — particularly when we’re coming into this Christmas season.
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. However, 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 an understanding of the 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?
Yes! After several years of educating legislators, Pennsylvania recently passed a law sponsored by State Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill and State Sen. Judy Schwank, that allows for teachers to wear religious symbols in class!
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.