The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States does guarantee a freedom of religion.
In the United States, we have a separation of church and state. Does this mean that municipalities cannot erect a Christmas tree and top it with a cross? According to a Fox News report, the ACLU has launched a lawsuit against the town of Knightstown, Indiana. I think it is time we look at the Bill of Rights from a historical perspective.
The preamble of the Bill of Rights states
THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.
This means that they intend the Bill of Rights as a means to ensure the rights of the people while limiting the powers of the government. Now we need to look at the First Amendment.
The First Amendment states
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
While the First Amendment guarantees the freedom to establish and exercise religion, it does not directly prevent a municipality from erecting a Christmas tree topped with a cross. Now, we have the issue of separation of church and state. The idea of separation church and state comes from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802. In this letter, he references the establishment and exercise of a religion by stating the First Amendment actually creates “a wall of separation between church and state.” There is nothing in these documents that prevents a municipality from erecting a Christmas tree nor does it prevent a cross from being placed on the tree. In fact, the First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law,” but it does not say, “The mayor of a small town of 2000 people shall not erect a tree with a cross on top.”
The ACLU suit alleges that a religious symbol has no place in the town square.
They claim it violates the establishment clause. There have been court decisions that have supported municipalities that place religious symbols in public places such as town squares, especially if other decorations are placed. In this case, the cross is on the top of a tree. The tree is another decoration. The tree is decorated with numerous other decorations. There are also other lights in this town square. Therefore, the cross is not displayed in isolation. In addition, there is the question to whether the town is celebrating a holiday or actually endorsing a religion. It could be argued that the town is simply celebrating a holiday.
There is a bigger issue here that goes beyond the First Amendment, the tree, decorations or the cross. It deals with the issue of communication.
The ACLU brought this lawsuit for one resident named Joseph Tompkins. He claims seeing the cross has caused him irreparable harm. They want the cross removed and monetary damages paid. Other residents are concerned that he never brought his grievance to the people of the town; instead, the ACLU filed an immediate lawsuit. What is going on in this world? It amazes me, with all of our modes of communication, we do not talk about issues, instead we file lawsuits. If he were truly concerned about his First Amendment rights, why didn’t he bring his grievance to elected officials without the ACLU? The Constitution does not require a lawsuit to be heard.