Christmas in the Classroom

With the current controversy brewing in the shopping malls and stores of America over the use of the word “Christmas” in advertising, it would be a good time to review the legal rulings on the celebration of religious holidays in the public school setting.

The Liberty Counsel provides an excellent summary of the conglomeration of court rulings and legal briefs on this subject. We as educators need to be familiar with the latest church-and-state laws so as to avoid legal problems for our school districts.

In a public holiday display, the essential constitutional element is to have a mix of the sacred and secular objects of the season. For example, a nativity scene would have to be accompanied by the traditional secular objects such as reindeer, Santa Claus, Christmas trees, and candy canes. Sacred symbols of other world religions must also be mixed with secular displays to be constitutional.

The same principle applies to music played in the classroom. Sacred holiday music should be mixed with secular Christmas carols. A choral performance may include religious songs so long as secular songs are included as well. There is an exception to the general rule. If students plan an event and select their own songs, there is no requirement to include secular songs in a program.

Students and teachers do not give up their constitutional rights to free speech just by the fact of being in a public school. Both can wear clothing or jewelry that contains religious symbols, unless a universal school dress code prohibits such items. Reports can be done on religious topics. Students can give out Christmas cards or invitations to Christmas events, so long as it does not interfere with the normal instructional time.

In essence, public schools are not religion-free zones.

Religion has long intertwined the world’s literature, history, art, and music. To remove specific religious elements from these subjects would be to present an incomplete picture of the subject and weaken the educational process. Thus we as teachers need not be afraid to discuss religious questions, so long as it is within the context of the course objectives. We do not have to restrict our display of seasonal holidays, such as Christmas, Easter, St. Patrick’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Halloween, so long as we present a classroom balanced with secular and religious items which are temporary additions to our classroom.

The bottom line: It is okay to wish each other “Merry Christmas.” It is okay for students to exchange Christmas cards. It is okay to have a Christmas tree. So let’s enjoy the holidays and let our students enjoy them with us!

Additional resources to the use of religious decorations in the classroom can be found at the following websites:

Have a Merry Christmas and a restful holiday break! WGW