It used to be that around Christmastime (and Hannukah) there would be all sorts of stories about political and judicial conflicts about the various signs of the season: creches and menorahs in public spaces, carols and songs sung or not sung at “holiday” programs in elementary schools, and so on. Perhaps I just haven’t been paying close enough attention, but the furor seems to have died down somewhat. Dare we call it a Christmas truce?
Fortunately, for those of us who like to stick it to the Man, the ACLU and Americans United have found another battlefield—high school graduations. Having won virtually all the skirmishes in the war over prayer in schools, they’ve switched their focus to the venues in which high school graduation ceremonies are held. It turns out that in some communities, the largest and least expensive venues are church sanctuaries.
Well, needless to say, the ACLU and Americans United are unhappy, and have filed suit in at least two instances and have rattled their sabres in my own backyard (Cherokee County, in the northern suburbs of Atlanta). Well, when I got wind of this, I couldn’t resist writing a little something for the Georgia Family Council, the good folks who let me blog from time to time on their site.
These graduation cases bring together two strings of Supreme Court decisions–one regarding school prayer, which goes back to Engel v. Vitale, and another regarding religious symbols in public places, which finds its most characteristic expression in Lynch v. Donnelly. The latter string of cases has required of judges some rather “subtle” judgments regarding constitutional feng shui: how many candy canes and polar bears does it take to contextualize a creche, turning the religious iconography into a mere constitutionally acceptable cultural symbol?
I wonder when some enterprising law school dean is going to invite Sandra Day O’Connor to teach a course on the interdisciplinary subspeciality to which her jurisprudence has given rise.
Update: I spoke too soon about the Christmas truce. From the Baptist Joint Committee’s blog, I learn that the Tennessee ACLU is warning that state’s educators about not favoring one religious tradition in their seasonal celebrations. What I find ironic here is the ritual invocation of the Founders, in whose understanding the First Amendment applied only to the federal government and not to the states. (To be sure, as I learned last year when my family spent a few days after Christmas as Colonial Williamsburg, back then folks approached Christmas a bit differently too.)
Update #2: Apparently, I unjustifiably left out fashion design among the constitutional subspecialities spawned by Sandra Day O’Connor.