Most modern Americans grew up watching Charlie Brown specials during the various holidays. While “The Great Pumpkin” certainly makes for a good story, it is hard to match the meaningful beauty of the Charlie Brown Christmas special.
At the climax of this iconic special, Linus retells the birth of Jesus Christ from the Gospel of Luke. It may be only time many hear those words this year and I cannot help but wonder whether such a cartoon would even be made today.
Oddly, government plays a key role in how religion in general is viewed. Governor Jan Brewer deserves credit for calling Arizona’s Christmas tree, a “Christmas” tree. Our previous governor preferred the term “holiday tree.” Even so, it is usually the judicial branch, not the executive, that is setting the rules in these areas.
The First Amendment reads in part, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .” Over time, the U.S. Supreme Court has tended to focus more on the “establishment” clause than the “free exercise” clause.
Of note, the Constitution does not contain the phrase that most people believe it does. The actual text says nothing about a “separation between church and state.” That phrase became law in a 1947 case called Everson v. Board of Education.
The Court in Everson ended up holding that tax dollars could be used to provide transportation to students going to church schools as well as public schools. The case because famous for Justice Black’s rhetoric, which stated, “the First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach.”
If religious liberty is valued, then government efforts to always avoid anything that looks religious may not always advance that goal. While I am aware of nobody arguing for an official government religion, the size and scope of modern American government agencies have expanded into most aspects of daily life. The unfortunate consequence from that expansion is that religion often gets forced out.
While others have an absolute right to disagree with me, I still believe that Christmas is a religious holiday designed to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. If you hold a different view, I only request that you be as tolerant of my views as you would like me to be of your own. Merry Christmas.
Judge Williams is the presiding justice of the peace for the Northwest Regional Court Center. His column appears monthly in The Foothills Focus.