The Christmas season is always a busy time for churches with opportunities for presenting the Gospel to folks who may only attend church on holidays, and challenges like attempting to keep 50 pre-schoolers from falling off the stage during the annual play. The spike in attendance many churches experience sometimes necessitates renting school auditoriums or other public facilities to handle special programs like the Christmas play. And some churches even get permission to erect Christmas displays in public parks.
Unfortunately, there are some groups that view Christmas time as the right time to attack religion by misusing the First Amendment to restrict religious speech. They use the Establishment Clause – originally meant to protect the Church from control by the State – as an Anti-Christmas Clause.
The good news is courts have held that churches have every right to use public facilities and parks that are generally open to the public. We’ve summarized the law governing equal access for churches in a document titled “Equal Access FAQ” on our resource page. That law is very clear: churches get the same access to government facilities to express their message as other community groups. They cannot be denied equal access just because their message is religious.
For instance, in the 1993 case, Kreisner v. City of San Diego, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that a private group could erect a Christmas display in San Diego’s famous Balboa Park. The group (called the Christmas Committee) had been obtaining an annual permit for the display every November and December since 1953. The display depicted eight scenes from the life of Christ – most of which centered around His birth. Each scene was accompanied by an appropriate passage of Scripture.
Thankfully, the court got it right and confirmed that the Establishment Clause isn’t a license to attack public observance of Christmas – even if it is religious. Churches should not be intimidated by anti-Christian groups and ignorant government officials who think religious speakers don’t have the same right to access government facilities as everyone else. They should contact us at ADF, and we’ll make sure all involved are aware of what the law really says, and go to court to enforce the Church’s rights, if necessary.
Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts or follow us on Facebook to join the conversation. http://www.facebook.com/SpeakUpChurch.