Sunday, December 4, 2011

Merry Christmas to You, Establishment Clause!




This article, State Capitol Christmas Trees Honor 100 Years of Girl Scouting, in The Bladen Journal announces an event being put on by the North Carolina Girl Scouts. They have been in exists for 100 years and to honor that term, they have put up and decorated four Christmas trees that are located on the second floor of the State Capitol building. The ornaments and decorations commemorate the courage, confidence, and character of these young women. The unveiling will happen during the “State Tree Lighting Ceremony and Holiday Festival” on the State Capitol grounds on Dec. 8 and will remain through the 29th of Dec. There is also a museum exhibit that is happening at a local museum to commemorate these 100 years.

These trees bring up the question of establish. Is the state establishing the Christian faith on its people by allowing the Girl Scouts to be putting up this celebratory exhibit? There are a couple of aspects of this that one has to explore. The first is that although some may argue that the Christmas tree has become a secular object in American society, it is still remains a religious symbol. It is a universal Christmas symbol and Christmas is known as a religious holiday which celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. The second is the proximity of the trees on state grounds. The trees are clearly on state grounds, because not only are they within government property lines, but they are in a government building. There is no way that one could argue the fact that these trees are on public land. The state had to approve these decorations to be put within the Capitol building. Though an accomdationist might argue that as long as other holiday symbols are included in the exhibit commemorating the 100 years, a strict separationist would greatly disagree. They would claim that there should be no tree on state property, let alone in state buildings, whatsoever, no matter how many faiths and how secular the symbol has become. At the end of the day, there are no other religious faiths being represented in this display and even if there were it would still be an establishment of religious by the state onto its people. Though if the trees should not be present because of Establishment, it would make sense that the State should not be holding an annual Tree Lighting on government grounds, the article is announcing the display, so that is what this post focuses on. But, if one were to immediately analyze the difference between a tree lighting and a display, a tree lighting is annual, which means it is tradition. This display does not occur on a year basis, because it is commemorating 100 years of existence, and that does not happen every year. But, to have adequate seperation, the state should not be endorsing an annual tree lighting, even if they were to hold an annual first day of the lighting of the menorah.

It is important to note that there have been cases that have come up that were similar. One case is Van Orden vs. Perry. What came into question was whether or not it was considered establishment that a big monument of the 10 commandments was located on government property? Though the court ruled in favor of keeping the Commandments there because of tradition. The reason why both displays should be removed is entirely similar. The dissent argued that these symbols (the Christmas Tree and the 10 Commandments—both of which have religious histories) have become secular in America. But in conclusion, both are religious and both displays have only religious purposes and there lacks neutrality between religion and non-religion. The difference between these cases is the fact that there is no tradition of the North Carolina State Capital having 4 Christmas trees on their second. Therefore, this argue would not work for keeping the trees.

The reason why this is an important issue is because of the time of year. It is the holidays. Everyone knows that Christmas happens in late December and Hanukah mid to late December, and Kwanza around then. Those are the three that tend to be included in decorations, card material, and calendar notifications. So, if you are an individual who does not celebrate one of those holidays or who chooses not to take a holiday path, you already feel left out of American Culture. Sad feelings are not unconstitutional. But the situation is furthered by the state establishing a religious path, let alone the majority faith of Christmas, on its people through Christmas trees. The Girl Scouts should not be allowed to commemorate their 100 years in North Carolina through Christmas trees in the State Capitol. A plaque or a sign would be a terrific alternative.

8 comments:

PamelaR said...

This post brings up an interesting question of what actually constitutes a Christmas tree-- if a "Christmas tree" is a religious symbol, then what about governments that put lights in already existing trees on their grounds? Is it only a "Christmas" tree if the tree is indoors, or if it was cut out of the ground and moved? Where do we draw the line between "tree with lights on it" and "Christmas tree"?

Harry R. said...

I do not agree with Kanderson that this practice violates the Establishment Clause. There have been Christmas Trees in the White House as well as other government buildings for years, and these have never been ruled to violate the Establishment Clause. Also, as long as other religious groups could have their symbols shown, the state is not inappropriately supporting one religion over others.

Ally R said...

I think Pam brings up a very interesting point. Until the term "Christmas tree" is properly, and universally defined I do not believe it should be assumed as a religious symbol and therefore it should be permitted.

I do agree with Kanderson however, in her argument that no religious symbols should be permitted in governmental buildings for I see that as preferential treatment of religion over non religion. I feel that a sign reading "Happy Holidays" would be sufficient enough, rather than decorations and religious symbols.

Christy said...

(Katherine, your title is very witty) Christmas trees are associated with the Christian holiday of Jesus Christ's birth, so I can see how placing a Christian symbol in a government building can be argued as violating the Establishment Clause. It's difficult to separate the religious meaning from Christmas decorations, so a sign reading "Happy Holidays" might be more appropriate to stay away from being a violation of establishing/promoting a religion.

Callie B said...

The fact that there are trees with lights and ornaments does not seem to be promoting Christianity. The entire event actually seems to be considerate of not advancing religion, referring to the event as "tree lighting", "holiday festival" and "commemorating courage, confidence and character". It seems as though the ceremony is not at all focused on Christmas and the holiday but rather on "connecting the past to present".

Liz Petrillo said...

A pine tree with lights on it, even if it is called a christmas tree is completely secular. Christmas is a secularized holiday; almost every religion celebrates it these days. Come every December it's hard not to find a town of Christmas trees, santa clauses, or anything else thats green and red. I believe this may be the furthest thing from an establishment of religion.

BryceS said...

I do not believe this violates the establishment clause. I believe that in today's society, a Christmas tree is a more of a material object that bares relatively insignificant religious meaning. Yes, it was a tradition founded on Christian principles and is a Christian symbol, but I would argue that a Christmas tree has significantly less religious meaning than a cross, for example. At this point in modern society, I definitely agree that a tree with lights on it does not have to be interpreted as a "Christmas Tree" but rather a holiday decoration.

Grace R said...

I think that decorating a Christmas tree is fine because they have been so secularized over the years. Althouth there is an association between Christmas and Christmas trees, I also believe that they can now also be known as more of a 'holiday' tree and should be allowed. It is much less about any specific religion and more about celebrating the holiday season, no matter what your religion is. Therefore, I think that the trees should be allowed because I see no issue of establishment.