Monday, December 29, 2008

Merry Chrismahanakqanzica and Happy New Year

While we are in the midst of the Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Pagan holidays, many will celebrate in their own ways as dictated by religious or family tradition in many cases. All Americans can celebrate as well, if they believe that the ability of individuals and families to celebrate or not celebrate as they chose is important. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects religious liberty for all. To protect all of us, it must protect each of us.

The majority religion or denomination in a community rarely needs the protection of government to exercise their right to celebrate at home, their place of worship, or in any public forum during the holiday. The First Amendment wouldn’t mean much if it only protected majorities. The First Amendment is worth celebrating any time of year, because it protects minorities, including those who appear outlandish or even blasphemous.

Some times religious leaders want the government to endorse particular beliefs by means of displays like crèches or sectarian music. One wonders if these religious leaders need government to sanctify their celebrations or they just want to demonstrate to one and all that they are accepted on government property. I suspect the latter, but neither motivation meets the spirit of the First Amendment.

The holidays are an emotional time for many. The framers of the First Amendment in effect tried to keep the government from making the season divisive instead of harmonious.

- Chris Ahmuty, ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director