This column presents facts regarding the United States Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Wisconsin State Constitution, and various other documents in reference to modern topics. Mark hopes to encourage interest in those works so that others can consider whether our government is practicing within its constitutional limits. In the last category, he may indicate his opinion. Mark is a resident of New Berlin. Readers are encouraged to visit the following sites for more information on the United States Constitution and Thomas Jefferson's views on politics and government.
According to the Washington Times, December 6, 2012A new battle line has been drawn in the church/state debate over an unlikely source — "A Charlie Brown Christmas."
One such stage adaptation recently became the center of a church/state conflict in Arkansas. The Terry Elementary School in Little Rock had organized a voluntary field trip to see a matinee of the show at a local church this month. The Arkansas Society of Freethinkers caught wind of the trip and threatened to sue the school for violation of church/state separation.
The Freethinkers objected not only to the location of the field trip, but also to the play's religious content. "A Charlie Brown Christmas" opens with Charlie Brown telling his friend Linus about his disillusionment with the Christmas season. As the story progresses, Charlie is increasingly upset with the consumerism and commercialization he sees all around him, from his dog Snoopy's participation in a Christmas decoration contest to his sister's request to Santa for lump sums of money. To comfort himself, he takes over the management of his school's Nativity play, but even there he finds his classmates focused on the wrong aspects of the season.
He goes to find a Christmas tree to include in the play's scenery, but when he brings back a very small one, all the children laugh at him. He asks himself whether he even knows what Christmas is all about, and Linus responds by quoting some verses from the Gospel of Luke about the birth of Christ. Charlie's classmates are moved by Linus' scriptural recital, and they follow Charlie home as he leaves with the tiny tree. The show closes with them singing "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" around the tree. The story's message, then, is that the true meaning of Christmas isn't presents or decorations, but the birth of Christ, and the love and solidarity that event continues to inspire.
It was precisely this aspect of the Charlie Brown story that the Freethinkers objected to, arguing that a public school cannot take a field trip to a church to view a play with a religious message. Terry's principal stood behind the outing, but Happy Caldwell, the pastor of the church hosting the play, decided to keep peace by canceling the show.
A pastor and an atheist group vs. against The Constitution
To quote Thomas Jefferson, letter to Danbury Baptist Association, CT., Jan. 1, 1802
“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and State. “
US Constitution; 1st Amendment
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
We the People:
The simple words of the first amendment limit Congress. So since they do not limit state and local governments, this school principal was correct to stand in favor of the outing. And yet Pastor Caldwell yielded and chose peace over exercising religious liberty. Was it worth that peace?