While evangelical leader and founder of the Samaritan's Purse humanitarian organization Rev. Franklin Graham is claiming that America is waging a "war on Christmas," a Christian advocacy group has sent legal memos to over 13,000 U.S. school districts reminding administrators that freedom of Christmas expression is constitutional.
Graham, the 62-year-old son of world-famous evangelical Billy Graham, wrote in the December issue of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association's Decision Magazine that over "the last few decades" social culture in America has become increasingly intolerant toward Christianity, and the Christmas spirit, although millions of Americans celebrate the birth of Christ every year.
"Unfortunately, the United States in the last few decades has witnessed increased hostility toward the sacred nature of Christmas, erupting into what has become a blatant war on Christmas," Graham wrote. "That's because at its root and core, the war on Christmas isn't really about Christmas — it's about the Son of God. The war on Christmas is a war on Christ and His followers. It's the hatred of our culture for the exclusive claims that Christ made."
Across the U.S., many local government entities and school districts have put in place rules and regulations that prevent people from openly sharing in the Christmas spirit, or even the Christian faith, in public spaces and many have also formally removed references to Christmas from public places and events, where Christmas and other religious references were once commonly used.
Graham provided a few examples. The city of Pittsburgh now refers to the Christmas holiday as "sparkle day." A local Minnesota courthouse has banned red poinsettias because someone claimed that the flowers were a "Christian symbol." He also added that a Veterans Administration hospital in Georgia has banned the singing and playing of Christmas songs in public areas.
"Stores, schools and communities across America continue to find new and intolerant reasons to remove any religious references to Christmas, stripping it of any holy or historical significance," Graham further explained. "Christian songs, prayers, and other spiritually vital connections to Lord Jesus Christ are deleted or diminished."
While Graham did not mention it in his piece, the largest school district in Maryland voted in November to strip religious holidays from its school calendars after Muslim leaders complained that Eid al-Adha was not on the school calendar as a day off for students. This means that Christian holidays such as "Christmas break" and "Easter" are no longer officially recognized by the Montgomery County School District.
Also, a South Carolina charter school, in 2013, canceled its participation in the Operation Christmas Child program, a charity initiative run by Graham's Samaritan's Purse organization, which encourages the donation of shoe boxes filled with small gifts for underprivileged children in third-world nations.
Additionally, a number of schools around the country have banned the singing of Christmas carols.
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As many school districts have come under fire from atheist and humanitarian organizations that have threatened legal action if the schools do not curb their involvement in religious activities — most prominently participation in Operation Christmas Child — the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom has vowed to help protect school districts' First Amendment rights.
ADF, a legal group fighting for the right of Christian expression, sent a memo Wednesday to over 13,000 school districts throughout the U.S. saying that the singing of Christmas carols, and other forms of Christmas expression in public schools, does not violate the Constitution.
The memo additionally informed the school districts that the group is available to represent districts in court if their students' constitutional rights are being challenged.
"No court has ever ruled that the Constitution demands school officials to censor Christmas carols, eliminate all references to Christmas, or silence those who celebrate Christmas," the memo states.
ADF senior legal counsel Jeremy Tedesco said that schools have no obligation to prevent their students from participating in Christmas events, such as singing Christmas carols or donating to Operation Christmas Child program.
"School districts do not have to remove religious references from their calendars. They should not violate the First Amendment by stifling student expression about Christmas," Tedesco said. "They can and should allow religious Christmas carols to be part of their school productions. And they can lawfully help impoverished children through community service projects, such as Operation Christmas Child."