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Keeping Christmas In Our Schools


Q. Is it true that public schools and their employees cannot even mention the word "Christmas" on school grounds because it would be construed as violating the principle of the separation of church and state?


No. That's ridiculous. And the courts have said so, loudly. The U.S. Supreme Court has never banned the singing of religious Christmas carols, the organization of Christmas parties in public schools, or the distribution of Christmas cards and candy canes in public school. School officials may call it "Christmas vacation" instead of "winter break" without fear of litigation: it's perfectly legal.


Sadly, though, many schools have caved in to special-interest group pressure. Even though a 2003 Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll showed that 96% of Americans celebrate Christmas and 90% of them believe the holiday is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, misguided school officials still are trying to censor Christmas and other American holidays in schools.


They are grossly misunderstanding the right of every American, including children, to free speech . . . not to mention fumbling on common-sense human relations. It is a mistake to attempt to stifle and undermine the religious beliefs of the vast majority of the taxpayers who fund schools in the first place.


Here's the legal documentation you may need to present to your school board, principal, teachers and anyone else who would seek to censor Christmas in your public school this year:


n       It's OK to sing religious Christmas carols in government schools, either in class or at concerts for parents and the public. This was established in the 1980 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals case, Florey v. Sioux Falls School District. As long as the performance advances the students' knowledge of society's cultural and religious heritage, and a full range of music, poetry or drama is presented, then the singing of carols has good educational purposes and is A-OK.


n       It's OK to display a nativity scene, cross, the Star of David or other religious symbols in a public school. It just must be in the context of secular symbols of the same holiday that are displayed temporarily during the season with educational purpose. The lighthearted nickname of this policy is "The Three Reindeer Rule." As long as the decorations make it clear that the school is celebrating that particular holiday, instead of promoting the religion behind it, it's OK to have religious symbols mixed in with secular ones such as a Christmas tree, reindeer, Santa Claus, dreidels, and so forth. This right was established by the U.S. Supreme Court in Lynch v. Donnelly.


n       Public school employees, including teachers, are perfectly free to use the term "Christmas" based on their constitutional right to freedom of speech. Among other reasons, Congress and the President have both proclaimed Christmas as a national holiday and government workers get a paid holiday on Christmas, which is referred to by that name in Lynch v. Donnelly.


n       School personnel, students and parents are perfectly within their rights to use the Bible when talking about Christmas in public schools, even reading the Christmas story out of a Bible, as long as their purpose is to provide a literary or historical context for Christmas. The Bible may not be used for religious or devotional purposes, of course. But in the U.S. Supreme Court case, The School District of Abington Township v. Scamp, the Court ruled that "the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities," and "when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education," the Bible's use in public schools is constitutionally permissible.


n       Christmas trees are OK to display on school property, including in the classroom, because they are a secular symbol of Christmas, rather than religiously-oriented. (Allegheny County v. American Civil Liberties Union)


n       Students and parents have a perfect right to have Christmas parties in the classroom during school time. Of course, it should be more of a cultural celebration than a religiously-based one, it's a good idea to have the parents pay for the party so that there's no question of the school using tax funds for it, and if there is one or more children in the classroom who are known to practice another religion, then a similarly-fun and exciting cultural activity associated with that holiday should be included in party plans. It's also a good idea to talk with that child's parents in advance of the party and invite them to be involved with party planning or to attend the party and share in the fun, so that they and their child will feel totally included. See:



n       Students have a perfect right to distribute religious literature in public schools, including religious Christmas cards with religious messages. The protections for Christmas cards are found in the U.S. Supreme Court cases Texas v. Johnson and Widmar v. Vincent. However, it's OK to prohibit the distribution of religiously-oriented cards if the school can show that the distribution would "materially and substantially interfere with school operations or with the rights of other students," according to the Tinker v. Des Moines School District case. But merely showing that the religious messages are "offensive" or "unpleasant" for other students is insufficient to warrant censorship, according to Johnston-Loener v. O'Brien.


n       Schools may not ban the greeting "Merry Christmas" or the printing of the word "Christmas" in student work at school under the free speech clause of the Constitution's First Amendment, as shown in Cohen v. California. As long as student speech is not "sexually explicit, libelous, or defamatory toward another student," as determined in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, it's OK.


Homework: The Alliance Defense Fund offers a number of well-documented, pro-Christmas pamphlets and sample letters that can be shared with school officials if Christmas is getting censored in your school. See:


See also


Although it doesn't zero in on holiday parties in school, this article from the American Civil Liberties Union agrees with many other groups that religious liberties are to be celebrated and exercised in public schools and everywhere else in our free society:


By Susan Darst Williams Controversies 11 2008


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