Killeen, Texas School Bans Charlie Brown Christmas Poster by Tyler O’Neil, posted at PJ Media in December 2016, is a good example of why government schools should not exist in a free society:
Dedra Shannon, a staffer at Patterson Middle School in Killeen, was ordered [by the principal] to remove a door-length poster featuring the iconic scene of Linus in front of a kid-sized tree uttering the true meaning of Christmas: "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior which is Christ the Lord. That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."
The principal argued that the poster was "an issue of separation of church and state" and that it "had to come down because it might offend kids from other religions or those who do not have a religion." The principal said Shannon could keep the picture of Linus up but had to remove the offending dialogue.
"I just took the entire thing down," Shannon recalled. "I wasn't going to leave Linus and the Christmas tree without having the dialogue. That's the whole point of why it was put up."
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton would not let this stand, however. He accused the Killeen Independent School District of violating the state's Merry Christmas Law. That law, passed in 2013, ensures that no school official in Texas can silence a biblical reference to Christmas.
"We passed that law precisely because of this type of discrimination against people of faith," Paxton told Starnes. "This is an attack on religious liberty and a violation of the First Amendment and state law."
O’Neil goes on to report “Exactly how a poster showing Linus with a well-known Christmas quote constitutes ‘imposing’ personal beliefs on students the district did not explain. It seems to imply that the mere possibility of a non-Christian student seeing the poster is enough to cause psychological harm.”
But psychological harm is not the point. The "’imposing’ [of] personal beliefs on students” comes from the fact that government schools are imposed on students by government force—that is, force of taxation and compulsory attendance laws. A public school teacher is, by extension, an agent of the government and there bound by Constitution. The biblical reference is, by definition, a violation of the First Amendment’s ban on Establishment of Religion by government.
But, that’s not the whole story.
I left these comments:
The principal argued that the poster was "an issue of separation of church and state."
"We passed that law precisely because of this type of discrimination against people of faith," Paxton told Starnes. "This is an attack on religious liberty and a violation of the First Amendment . . . ."
Both are correct.
Government owned and administered schools must not allow its property to be used for any activity “respecting an establishment of religion,” thus violating dissenting taxpayers’ right to freedom of conscience. On the other hand, Christians are as much taxpaying supporters of government schools as non-Christians, so they have as much right to display religious Christmas greetings as anyone has to display secular Christmas greetings: To do otherwise amounts to “prohibiting the free exercise thereof” as well as “abridging the freedom of speech,” violating the rights of Christians in two ways.
Displaying the poster and forbidding its display both violate the First Amendment. This is a government-created contradiction. I believe the most fundamental issue here is not one of separation of church and state nor freedom of religion nor free speech. The fundamental issue is the proper role of government regarding education: specifically, the propriety of government being involved with financing, owning, or administering schools. These kinds of conflicts wouldn’t arise if we didn’t have government-run education. If all education were privately owned, run, and funded, the schools could make their own policies regarding expressions of conscience, and parents can consider such policies when choosing a school for their children. Whatever school parents then choose, they’d have to follow the school’s rules. (I’m leaving aside the issue of “discrimination against people of faith.” The government shouldn’t discriminate in the enforcement of its laws. But anti-discrimination laws targeted at the private sector violate the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of association. But that is off-topic and a subject for another day.)
To avoid these kinds of unnecessary conflicts, and for many other reasons, I propose the following addition to the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of education, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” In short, we need the separation of education and state in the same way and for the same reasons as we have the separation of church and state—to protect intellectual freedom.
Short of that—and while acknowledging that Christians have a legitimate beef—I have to side with the school district. Religion itself is the larger threat to freedom because it is inherently authoritarian, which is why there must be an impenetrable firewall between religion and political power (the power of legalized force). As long as we have government schools, the Texas conflict and the like must be resolved on the side of separation of church and state as articulated in the First Amendment “establishment” and “free exercise” clauses. Once we crack the door open to government establishment of religion, no matter how small the crack, we start down a road that leads to theocratic tyranny. And that would be the end of freedom of religion, speech, press, and association—the entire First Amendment—and by extension freedom generally.
I would add one more important observation. Shannon said, "I wasn't going to leave Linus and the Christmas tree without having the [biblical] dialogue. That's the whole point of why it was put up."
No, it’s not the “whole point.” Christmas ceased being a strictly religious holiday the minute Congress made it a legal holiday. A legal religious holiday in a nation dedicated to freedom of religion and conscience is a contradiction. (The Founders used the terms “religion” and conscience” interchangeably. They understood religious freedom to encompass the freedom not to believe in or practice any religion—in effect, not just freedom of religion, but freedom from religion as well.) Being a national legal holiday, Christmas can have non-religious, non-Christian meaning just as validly as a Christian meaning. It’s a matter of individual preference. Otherwise, what’s the point of freedom of conscience?