The U.S. has always been a culturally Christian country. At no other time, perhaps, than Advent and Christmas, are our Christian roots more visible. We can turn on the radio and hear “Away in a Manger” or “Silent Night” sung by Nat King Cole, or drive down the street and see Nativity scenes lit up in front yards. There are social media movements to “keep Christ in Christmas,” and many make the extra effort give to charity and serve the poor during this season of giving. Despite this Christmas spirit, every year we hear of new legal challenges to the display of religious images in public ranging from the display of the Ten Commandments in courthouses to Nativity scenes on display in city halls and public parks. But what does the Constitution say about the legality of such religious displays by government? Over the years, many cases have been brought before the U.S. Supreme Court regarding this issue, but the legal answers are far from clear.
In this lesson your students will:
- Understand protections of religious freedom afforded by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
- Understand the difference between individual expression and government speech.
- Analyze key Supreme Court decisions regarding the display of religious images and symbols by government.
- Assess the criteria courts use to determine constitutionality of laws and activities pertaining to church and state.