Sunday, October 11, 2009

Free Speech or No Speech?

The state of Washington is back in the news regarding displays at the capitol around Christmas. There was a "fight" about this in 2007, which went to court. Now the state is banning displays altogether until it comes up with formal guidelines. Those guidelines will probably not allow displays inside the capitol.

The capitol is a public building and is often thought of as the logical where free speech would occur. If a display is not attacking anyone, which their original "holiday" displays did not, there would not seem to be a controversy. But that is not my main point.

Mostly I am concerned that people wanting no Christmas recognition at the capitol use the Establishment Clause as their justification, and naturally refer to it as upholding "separation of church and state." That metaphor does not fully describe the First Amendment, even though many try to use it for that purpose.

The First Amendment's Establishment Clause says simple that Congress may not establish a national religion by law. Clearly the Founders did not want to force people to worship based on a government law. Having to walk by a Christmas display is hardly being forced to worship. And the same Amendment protects free speech, which many Washington residents feel is being threatened here.

In a country that celebrates Christmas as a national holiday, and even has an official Capitol Christmas Tree ceremony each year near the White House, how has this become such a controversy?

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