By Victor Cornell
Austin Regional Coordinator
We get a lot of questions and complaints this time of year about religious holiday displays. So we thought we’d take this opportunity to set the record straight.
The First Amendment guarantees individuals, families, businesses, and religious communities the right to display Christmas symbols. This right is well established and is exercised annually by private individuals and entities across the country. The difficulty comes when the government decides that it wants to get involved in promoting some religious symbols or prohibiting others.
The existing guidelines are actually pretty simple. First, public Christmas displays (including nativity scenes) erected and paid for by individuals, religious organizations or other nongovernmental groups are perfectly acceptable at homes and churches. This religious expression is a valued and protected part of the First Amendment rights guaranteed to all citizens.
Second, government-sponsored religious displays, including those at courthouses, town halls and other governmental properties are not okay, except in certain specific instances (such as being one element of a larger, seasonal holiday display that includes other religions.) These displays wrongly presume that government should make judgments about religion. Governments should not be in the business of endorsing religious displays. Religion does best when government stays out of the business of deciding which holidays and religions to promote. Religion belongs where it prospers best: with individuals, families and religious communities.
See, I told you it was simple!
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