HB278 Violates the Establishment Clause

OK, what part of the Establishment Clause does Missouri’s religious-right not understand?

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

A bit of news came to light last week. HB 278, which  Missouri’s governor, Jay Nixon, vetoed during the regular legislative session, which the Republican heavy House and Senate overrode during the special session is now the law of the state. It sounded good if one does not read the underlying message. The bill states:

No state or local governmental entity, public building, public park, public school, or public setting or place shall ban or otherwise restrict the practice, mention, celebration, or discussion of any federal holiday.

The reality is that the Christian conservatives want to celebrate Christmas, and only Christmas, as a sectarian holiday. So a bit of history is involved here.

Christmas was not considered a holiday by the American populous until the beginning of the 1800s. In fact, many northern Christians, especially those of the Puritan sects, believed it was a sin to “celebrate” Christmas. In fact, Thanksgiving was considered the more important of the winter holidays by many Americans. It was the southern states that made the initial run of making Christmas a holiday, starting with Alabama in 1836.

It was not until after the Civil War that Christmas became a federal holiday and then limited. President Ulysses S. Grant and Congress declared Christmas a federal holiday but only for those federal employees who worked within the District of Columbia. And only by proclamation.

The stories about the reasoning vary, but there is a common theme – so many people refused to work on December 25 that it was easier to declare Christmas day a holiday in 1870 to allow all federal employees the day off. After all, many federal employees were from the southern state of Virginia.

It was not until 1969 when Congress passed a bill declaring that Christmas be a national holiday for all federal employees.

The reasoning behind that bill also has various tales, but the common thread seems to be the same as why the United States added God to the Pledge of Allegiance and made “In God We Trust” the national motto – propaganda. The 1960s was the height of the Cold War and the hot war in Vietnam. We were fighting those godless commies on two fronts and needed to remind the world that we are better because the Christian god was on our side.

Separation of Church and State issues usually revolve about a single question: Is there an appearance that the state is supporting an established religion? It is perception versus intent.

Governor Nixon did not veto the bill because of the obvious ties to a religious holiday but something about the Fourth of July and fireworks. In fact, the bill would allow religious celebrations of the Christian holiday but not of the other winter holidays including Chanukah, Yule, the Winter Solstice, Kwanza and other “rebirth” celebrations of the many religious practices of the United States. The perception would be that our tax dollars were being used to establish the Christian holiday as a national religious celebration.

Now some have argued that Christmas is no longer a sectarian holiday but secular. If true, then why continue to describe the winter holiday season as a celebration of Christ’s Mass?

American/Christian FlagHB 278 brings the purpose of the new law into direct conflict with the perception of the use of tax dollars for a religious purpose. The question of celebrating the birth of one religion’s god or the son of God, depending on which sect of Christianity you tap, as a national holiday smacks of irrelevance to the Framers of the First Amendment, that even the perception of supporting and/or establishing a state religion is contrary to the laws of the land.

I for one do not want my tax dollars supporting the Christian faith, or any religion. I am waiting for the challenge of this new statute come the holiday season of 2013 when a “governmental entity, public building, public park, public school, or public setting or place” refuses to celebrate the Winter Solstice or Chanukah while promoting the day of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.


David is booking speaking and interviews for 2013. Contact him at Dave@InkandVoice.com

About David Rosman

David is the winner of the Missouri Press Foundation's "Best Columnist" in 2013 (First Place) and 2014 (Second Place), the 2016 Harold Riback Award for excellence in writing, and the winner of the 2007 Interactive Media Award for excellence in editing.
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