We recently set up our Christmas tree. As previously described, to me a Christmas tree is rife with religious symbolism. But SHHHHH! Don’t tell Justice Blackmun (or his successors) that the Christmas tree, like the menorah, is a religious symbol. Otherwise, you will soon see no more Christmas trees in public places. Consider why not:
In County of Allegheny v. ACLU, 492 U.S. 573 (1989), the Supreme Court held constitutional under the first amendment, after applying the so-called Lemon test, a part of a holiday display outside the city-county building in Allegheny County. (The creche part was held to violate the first amendment injunction against governmental endorsement of religion).
The display at issue included an18-foot Chanukah menorah placed outside the
alongside a 45-foot Christmas tree and a sign saluting liberty. The Court reasoned that this was constitutional under Lemon because the "combined display" is a secular winter-holiday celebration (not unlike a museum exhibit).
According to Justice Blackmun, who wrote the opinion of the Court, the Christmas tree is undoubtedly "secular," and it’s massive. Since it’s so much bigger than the menorah, typcially a religious symbol, it must control the menorah’s meaning. And besides, there’s no less religious alternative to the Christmas tree which, unlike the menorah, is not a religious symbol (although it once was).
Because I like to see Christmas trees (and menorahs) during the holidays in public places (I think it adds a nice "christmasy" feel), I hope nobody points Justice Blackmun to my essay about the religious associations of a Christmas tree…
That said, and this one throw-away statement at the end here is worthy of its own complete blog post, I do not understand why people make such a big fuss when government buildings are not allowed to have creche displays because they have been held to constitute an impermissible Government endorsement of religion. If the only way to allow the creche to be displayed in public buildings is to call then "secular" symbols akin to Santa and his reindeer (see, e.g., Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668 (1986)) , then I would rather NOT have them displayed publically and retain their sacredness.
Besides, when we have abundant churches and religious homes that have *beautiful* creche displays, why do public buildings NEED to have them? (Hmmm. I guess the same could be said of Christmas trees. But I rather enjoy the sight of a large, decorated Christmas tree, even if it is labelled "secular").