The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog describes a victory for religious freedom. In a case about which I first wrote just after its inception, a gang known as Freedom From Religion Foundation sued the village of Warren, MI, for having the temerity to put up a Christmas display without permitting FFRF to put up a sign next to it announcing that religion is “myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”
First, Mayor James Fouts told them to take a hike, followed by their suit:
If you requested permission to put up a sandwich board saying that there is no Santa Claus, you would be met with the same response. Santa Claus lives in the minds and hearts of many millions of children. The belief of God and religion lives in the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of people and is as much a part of the fabric of America, as the belief in democracy and freedom….
Your non-religion is not a recognized religion. Please don’t hide behind the cloak of non-religion as an excuse to abuse other recognized religions.
Then a Michigan district court told these folks to take a hike.
Then the 6th Circuit told this…crowd…to take a hike. On the matter of Warren’s alleged favoring of the religious over the secular, they had this:
That is not true even on its own terms. All but one of the objects in the holiday display are nonreligious. Ribbons, ornaments, reindeer, a lighted tree, wreaths, snowmen, a mailbox for Santa, elves, wrapped gift boxes, nutcrackers, poinsettias, candy canes, a “Winter Welcome” sign—all of them, all that is but the nativity scene—are secular…
A city does not run afoul of the Establishment Clause by including a creche in a holiday display that contains secular and religious symbols.
On the matter of the “Winter Welcome” greeting in particular, the 6th expanded with this [emphasis added]:
When one neighbor greets another in mid-December with “Happy Holidays,” it is the rare person who hears “Happy Holy Days.” What was once the most religious of invocations has become one of the most faith-neutral, even secular. One indeed can fairly wonder who has co-opted whom over time with these displays and words. But that is a matter for another day.
On the gang’s bellyache that Fouts’ letter was itself some sort of cynical violation, the 6th had this:
These are not the words of someone trying to establish any one religion or religion in general; they are the words of someone trying to explain the common sense risks of disparaging faith-based and secular symbols, whether a creche or a Santa, alike….
It may be true that the Mayor misapprehended the Religion Clauses when he implied that atheists receive no protection from them by saying that the Foundation’s “non-religion” was “not a recognized religion.” In this respect, the Mayor, apparently untrained as a lawyer, may not have missed his calling…. But this defense of his actions, premised on a misreading of precedent, does not transform his actions or the City’s display into an establishment.
On the gang’s crying about their free speech rights, here’s the 6th, again:
[Warren] could choose to add a Santa. And it could choose to deny a sign saying, “There is no Santa.” It could choose to incorporate a message about Ramadan. And it could choose to deny a message disparaging any one religion or religion in general. Just as Congress’s creation of a National Day of Prayer on the first Thursday of May does not compel the legislature to recognize a National Day of Non-Prayer each year, so too the City of Warren could opt to have a holiday display without a Winter Solstice sign. Such holiday displays are quintessentially government speech….
And the Foundation, like everyone else, is free to urge the City to add or remove symbols from the display each year or to try to elect new officials to run the City—the customary answer to permissible government speech and the customary answer to policies with which citizens disagree.
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor responded to her loss without any sense of irony:
Apparently we are a Christian nation, and cities may prefer religion over non-religion[.]
On the first, well, duh. On the second, she needs to ask her lawyer to read the 6th‘s opinion to her. It’s not what they said. Her lawyer can find that opinion can be found here.
Thus we see the benefit of not taking the easy way out—the coward’s way out—and acceding to the demands of such anti-freedom fighters as these as soon as the latter threaten.
These lose—as all bullies lose—when faced with forthright and just opposition.
Facing down bullies is expensive, certainly. However that expense pales beside the expense of meekly surrendering freedoms for the demanding. Once you pay the Danegelt, you never get rid of the Dane.