Establishment Clause vs Santa Claus

I’ve written before about being an Atheist in a Theist Land. The gist of that story is that while America is very tolerant of various religions, the idea of having no religion at all is very difficult for a lot of people to deal with. This country, which is supposed completely separate church and state, actually has “God” plastered all over the place. From our money, to the Pledge of Allegiance, to the music they teach our kids to sing in public school.

You might think that I’d be happy that our new elementary school principal is a grade A, first class Grinch, who is doing everything in her power to expunge every last bit of religion from our schools. (Although they still say “Under God” in the pledge, and they say the pledge every day, so I guess some cows are still sacred.) You might think I’d be happy about that, but you would be wrong.

I live in a small New England town. It’s the kind of town that still has a nativity scene on the town common around Christmas (and no other religions represented), and has Christmas this and Christmas that in the schools this time of year. At least, they did until this year. For example, there is a very long tradition of the PTO (Parent Teacher Organization, which is basically the PTA except there’s a trademark on that or something, so they use PTO) setting up a store in the school for one week. They called it “Santa’s Workshop” and kids could go there and spend a few bucks to buy presents for their siblings and parents. They kids loved it. The parents loved it. Everybody fucking loves Santa’s Workshop. So it was quite a shock when the new principal (with backing from the superintendent) declared that it wasn’t happening this year.

It was particularly shocking to the PTO, which had not been warned, and was about to be stuck with thousands of dollars of inventory. There was a negotiation, and it was decided that the event could go on as usual but they had to change the name. And although they could sell any holiday-themed inventory they still had, they shouldn’t restock anything holiday-ish for next year.

Similarly, the elementary school holiday concert is having its music program censored to get rid of all the religious stuff. I hear “Jingle Bells” is OK, but “Up on the Rooftop” is not.

I guess that the old approach of throwing in the Dreidel Song and something about Kwanzaa to inoculate the school from that darn Establishment Clause of the US Constitution isn’t considered sufficient any more.

I think this is all positively stupid. Let them sing about Santa. Who gives a fuck?

Let’s look at an analogy. There is an old religious institution called “Marriage.” It got pretty popular, and when this secular government of ours was created, there were a lot of legal ramifications of two people being married. So the states created a legal Civil Union and called it “Marriage.” I know it’s confusing because it’s called the same thing, but the two institutions are totally different. My first “Marriage” was to a Catholic girl, but we didn’t get married in a church, so as far as the church was concerned, we weren’t married. People can get married in a church, but if they don’t have the right paperwork from the state, that doesn’t count as far as the government is concerned. Plenty of gay couples and polygamous couples have had to deal with that over the years.

So there are two things called “Marriage.” One is religious, and one is secular, and other than the fact that a lot people do both at the same time, there really isn’t any connection between the two.

Christmas is exactly the same way. There is a religious thing called “Christmas” that’s about the birth of Jesus, and the story of the nativity and all that. And there is a secular thing, also called “Christmas.” You’ve got Linus’s take:

And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

And you’ve got Lucy’s take:

You know, Santa Claus and ho-ho-ho, and mistletoe and presents to pretty girls.

And they’re both right. Linus is talking about the religious “Christmas” and Lucy is talking about the secular “Christmas.” And, like marriage, it’s super confusing because we use the same name for both things, and they happen on the same day, but they are two totally different things.

In my house growing up, we celebrated the secular version. We had a tree and presents. We sang carols, and Santa came. We did not go to church, watch a Nativity Pageant, or do anything remotely solemn.

So that brings us back to the public schools and the Establishment Clause. I absolutely agree that they should not be celebrating religious Christmas in the schools. They should not have a nativity scene in the lobby, or crosses on the walls. I’m actually OK with them singing religious carols at the concerts, because music is different. It rides above all this secular/religious bullshit. Great music is great music. I don’t give a shit what it’s about or what significance some group has attached to it. But I digress.

Keep that religious Christmas out of the schools. Absolutely.

But Santa Claus? He’s got nothing to do with that. Santa is all about greed and gluttony and capitalism. And our schools are all about teaching our kids to be good consumers. Nobody complains about the schools celebrating Earth Day. It seems that Valentine’s day is still just fine, even though there’s a “Saint” vaguely connected to that one. Same with Saint Patrick’s day. Secular Christmas—Santa’s Christmas—is just like those holidays.

Let Santa’s Workshop be called Santa’s Workshop. Let them sing songs about reindeer.

If they really want to confront the establishment issues in schools, let’s start by deleting that “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. Because that’s fucking obnoxious.


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