XMAS TREES

Cam Edwards apparently loves him some Christmas:

What exactly is a “holiday tree”, and why do we have one at the state capitol? Sometime in the past few years Christmas trees have been replaced by “holiday trees”, like this one featured on Sen. Tom Daschle’s web page.

I’m in full agreement with Glenn Beck on this one. It’s not a holiday tree. It’s a Christmas tree. Can we not mention Christmas because it’s a Christian holiday? Well, that’s fine… but why do we have the freakin’ tree then? It’s a little intellectually dishonest to think that by simply calling something another name, we can get rid of its symbolism. In fact, if we’re going to have to call Christmas trees “holiday trees”, I demand that menorahs now be known as “holiday candelabras”, the Easter bunny be now called “Springtime Charlie”, and Valentine’s Day be called “Buy Me Presents To Get In My Pants Day”.

I kinda like that last one, actually.

It would help to enhance their worshipful authenticity if the Christmas trees didn’t start sprouting up in, oh, late October. In shopping malls.

We’ve been walking the wire on these quasi-religious displays for nearly 20 years. In Lynch v. Donnelly (1984), the Supreme Court found a nativity scene displayed with Santa Claus, a Christmas tree, a clown, a teddy bear and other holiday items was not a violation of the Establishment Clause, since the combination was essentially secular:

Based on the record in this case, the city has a secular purpose for including the creche in its Christmas display and has not impermissibly advanced religion or created an excessive entanglement between religion and government. The display is sponsored by the city to celebrate the Holiday recognized by Congress and national tradition and to depict the origins of that Holiday; these are legitimate secular purposes. Whatever benefit to one faith or religion or to all religions inclusion of the creche in the display effects, is indirect, remote, and incidental, and is no more an advancement or endorsement of religion than the congressional and executive recognition of the origins of Christmas, or the exhibition of religious paintings in governmentally supported museums. *** To forbid the use of this one passive symbol while hymns and carols are sung and played in public places including schools, and while Congress and state legislatures open public sessions with prayers, would be an overreaction contrary to this Nation’s history and this Court’s holdings.

Some wags call this the “St. Nick, too” exception to the Establishment Clause.

Five years later, in Allegheny County v. ACLU (1989), the Court, in a convoluted plurality decision, ruled that a nativity scene inside a courthouse violated the Constitution, because it sent an explicitly Christian message, but that a large Christmas tree and menorah with the message “Salute to Liberty” outside the same courthouse did not.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.