No. The U.S. Constitution makes no requirement for "separation of church and state."
Secularists have demanded that "holiday celebrations" and any mention of God or
Christ be removed from public schools; however, that is not required by any law.
Federal court cases have clearly establish that it is not legally required or
necessary to remove Christ from Christmas. Students may sing religious
Christmas carols, and that does not violate the Constitution. Furthermore,
teaching about the birth of Jesus Christ is permissible when taught in an
objective manner as part of cultural and religious heritage.
Holidays that have a religious basis may be observed in the public schools.
And the historical and contemporary values and the origin of religious holidays may
be explained. Music, art, literature, and drama having religious themes or basis
are permitted. The use of religious symbols such as a cross, menorah, crescent,
Star of David, etc. are permitted as a teaching aid when such symbols are displayed
as an example of cultural and religious heritage. Allowed holidays include: Christmas,
Passover, Hannukah, St. Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, and Thanksgiving.
'A Gift for Teacher' is an 8-page Christmas card that outlines how public school
teachers can legally teach about the birth of Christ. Obtain a copy here:
1984 Supreme Court remarks on religious holiday celebrations
"In our modern, complex society, whose traditions and constitutional
underpinnings rest on and encourage diversity and pluralism in all areas,
an absolutionist approach in applying the Establishment Clause is simplistic
and has been uniformly rejected by the court. (465 US 678)
"It is clear that neither the 17 draftsmen of the Constitution who were
members of the First Congress, nor the Congress of 1789, saw any establishment
problem in the employment of congressional Chaplains to offer daily prayers in
the Congress, a practice that has continued for nearly two centuries. It would
be difficult to identify a more striking example of the accommodation of
religious belief intended by the Framers." (465 US 674)
Constitutionally Sound Lesson Plan Ideas for public school teachers (abbreviated here):
1. Read the Christmas story as found in the Bible, Luke 2:1-20.
2. Invite a local minister or priest to tell the class the Christmas story.
3. Have students share how their families or churches celebrate Christmas.
4. Prepare a lesson on the ways Christianity has affected American culture.
5. Lead a class discussion on teachings of Jesus that are often referred to
in American culture, such as: "Do unto others ..." Matthew 7:12, "Go the extra
mile ..." Matthew 5:41, "Turn the other cheek ..." Matthew 5:39, "Don't cast
your pearls before swine ..." Matthew 7:6, "the good Samaritan" Luke 10:30-37
6. Have each student write an article for a class newspaper on the subject.
7. Examine how Christmas is celebrated by Christians in other cultures.
Selected excerpts from a
USA Today article July 1, 2011 (UpQuick edited)
Texas Governor Rick Perry has invited the nation's governors to participate in what
he has called:
"a non-denominational, apolitical, Christian prayer service."
Of course, secularists have expressed indignation,
calling the event an unwarranted mingling of church and state.
The role of religion in public life and the extent to which America was founded
as a Christian nation is an ongoing public debate. The governor has described
this event as a call to the "restoration of enduring values as our guiding force."
Religion impacts everything from government policy and individual morality to our basic social constructs. It affects the lives of both those with faith as well as those with no faith at all.
The Founders had varied faiths, ranging from traditional Christians such as Patrick Henry to Thomas Jefferson who compiled a version of the Gospels that focused on Jesus' teachings.
Ben Franklin called himself a deist. John Adams was a liberal Unitarian. George Washington was guarded about his personal beliefs; however, the revolution clearly relied on the supporting role of faith. Franklin believed that God intervened to help America win the revolution. Most of the Founders agreed with Washington that religion was essential because it helped to cultivate public-minded, virtuous citizens. In his 1796 farewell address, Washington said, "of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports."
The two key faith-based ideas from the American revolution were: equality by God's creation and religious liberty. Jefferson's Declaration of Independence stated, "all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights." This was a broad yet powerful theological claim: God is the author of our rights, and before God, we are all equal. Equality by creation was the most dynamic principle of the revolution and it became America's creed.
The other great religious concept of the revolution was religious liberty. In 1776, evangelicals took the lead in calling for an end to state sponsorship of any denomination so that faith could flourish in freedom. Evangelicals united with deists and liberals to make religious liberty a reality, culminating in the First Amendment's guarantee of the free exercise of religion with a ban on establishing a single national church.
However, did that "disestablishment" clause and emphasis on religious liberty mean that America was to be a secular nation? Definitely not. Religion was everywhere in the life of the new republic. Prayer days were routine under Washington and John Adams. Adams' 1798 declaration of a national prayer day called on Americans to ask that God, "through the Redeemer of the world" and the power of the Holy Spirit, would lead Americans to true moral reformation. As president, Jefferson regularly attended church services in government buildings.
On the basis of historical precedent and constitutionality, Governor Perry's "Response" is on solid ground. The Founders employed faith principles -- especially religious liberty and equality by creation -- to unify Americans across the theological spectrum. Perry promises to "take America back" (presumably from Obama and his supporters). That theme does make Perry's "Response" political to some degree. Nevertheless, prayer can and should have a public role in America.