Valentine’s Day: Why does the ACLU not sue to keep this religion out of school?

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Doing carpool today, taking my kids home from school, we passed by the local public high school. Kids were streaming out of the public school, many of them carrying big heart-shaped helium baloons for Valentine’s Day.

Something struck me then which in fact strikes me every year on Halloween, Santa Claus Day, Kwanzaa, Valentine’s Day and Spring-Color Egg Day, and that is: the public schools DO teach religion, and they DO celebrate religious holidays.

This has been actually infuriating me for years, ever since I first noticed it. The Bible cannot be read in public schools, teachers cannot refer to G-d, the Ten Commandments cannot be posted on the walls, but the teachers openly promote witches and cupids, goblins and Greek gods, pagan rites of spring (the eggs being all that remains of Easter) and orgies of commercialism.

Mind you, I don’t actually want the birth of Chr*st or his supposed resurrection (Easter) to be taught in public schools, but I do think the utter absence of any reference to G-d in even generic terms is a social and moral horror, especially when an alternative religion IS being promoted in public schools.

I was in another public school — to vote — not long after Halloween, and saw goblins and witches taped up all over the walls and bulletin boards. No one protested, no one seemed to think there was anything immoral or unconsitutional about promoting sorcery and witchcraft. The supernatural aspect of Halloween seemed to ruffle no feathers. What are we to make of this?

What to me is most appalling about Halloween is the constant theme of death, the black costumes, the skulls and blood and so on. It gets worse every year, more gruesome and more disgusting. As for Valentine’s Day, there is little mention of marital love but a lot of sexual innuendo and suggestiveness in so many of the Valentine’s Day displays, ads and articles one sees at this time of year.

Now for the record, I do not agree with some of my fellow Jewish conservative writers and pundits, such as Dennis Prager, Don Feder, Michael Medved and even my fellow C-C contributor Shira Schmidt, about the propriety of Jews saying “Merry Chr*stmas” — a word Jews never pronounced, nor spelled out, when I was growing up. Even though I have a lot of sympathy with those Christians who feel that the religious significance of their holiday has been denigrated, if not forced into the closet, I consider Xmas to be the quintessential non-Jewish holiday.

We are natural allies with devout, G-d-fearing Christians in the culture wars, but we are not natural theological allies, since the difference between our theology and theirs is PRECISELY the point of difference between Christianity and Judaism.

It isn’t — pace Abe Foxman — that Christians are pro-life and Jews are pro-abortion, nor that Christians are for marriage and Jews are for gay rights, nor that Christians want their children to learn the Ten Commandments and Jews want their children to learn their Miranda rights. No, in the arena of morality, Torah Jews and Christians are generally on the same page. It is in the arena of theology, precisely, that we differ.

(BTW when I say we are on the same page I don’t mean that we necessarily agree about what to do POLITICALLY — about abortion for example — since some liberal Orthodox Jews don’t think the government should do anything about morality at all — but in personal behavior and beliefs, Orthodox Jews and Christians live similarly chaste and moral lives.)

I know that there are Christian parents who do not want their children learning about ghosts and goblins in school, or learning about Cupid and the arrow of love — who do not want their children exposed to witchcraft, sorcery and magic in their classroom — and we Jews should totally be on the side of those Christians who utterly reject paganism, in whatever guise it may appear. To the extent that the question is Bible-based monotheism vs paganism, yes, that much theology we do share with Christians.

[BTW, while I am talking about religious symbols in public spaces, I will just throw in my dismay at some of the tactics Chabad has used over the years. I love seeing their big menorahs in public places and take pride in those displays — as do many Jews, both secular and religious. But: Chabad had to fight, and win, many court cases in order to win the right to light their menorahs. Their opponents in each of these cases were secular Jews who fought bitterly to exclude even JEWISH symbols from the public square — so intense was the secular Jews’ hatred and fear of anything religious. Time after time, in order to win their case, Chabad was willing to stand up in court and blithely deny that the menorah was a religious symbol at all! They no doubt felt that “the end justified the means,” but I adamantly disagree.]

To get back to Valentine’s Day: The question of why black magic or pink Cupids are allowed while G-d is forbidden — and why Christian protests are so muted and have so little impact on school festivities — is one I have wrestled with and which I cannot come up with a rational explanation for.

That is, I can’t think of a rational or Constitutional reason why a distinction is made in public schools (and public libraries and other public spaces) between Halloween and Xmas, or between goblins and crosses.

I CAN think of emotional and moral reasons for this distinction, reasons why the heavily Jewish ACLU wouldn’t be bothered by pagan displays, and here they are:

1. Paganism does not threaten to separate Jews socially from non-Jews in the way that serious religious differences do.
2. Paganism makes no moral demands, does not suggest that people have any need to rein in their animal appetites.

So I think I understand why the ACLU doesn’t mind the promotion of pagan religious rites in public schools but I think if G-d cannot be mentioned in school, NO religion should be allowed in school.

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22 Responses

  1. Rishona says:

    Growing up in a Xtian household, holidays in school were tough; and this was 20 years ago. With Halloween in particular, my chilhood church created a “Share & Care” night or something like that on the same night trick or treating was going on. X-mas was always an uphill battle because my Grandmother didn’t play into the “gimme, gimme, gimme” game that was going on. Again, then was the 1980s, we didn’t have cable and still did the majority of our shopping at local-run stores; and I think think things are exponentially worse off now.

    Yes mainstream America DOES promote a religion; and it’s called commercialism.

  2. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Jewropean, how obscure does the Avoda Zara source of something have to be before it’s OK? It is OK to call Wednesday after Woden, March after the Roman war deity, and Tamuz after the Babylonian Tammuz ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tammuz )? Modern flags come from the crusader custom of carrying an image of the cross into battle – is it forbidden for me to respect the flag of the US?

    Very few people pray to Cupid, and I suspect that in public schools very few people pray to St. Valentine. Certainly, the way it is promoted here is not conducive to praying to him – there are no images of the saint, or any other indication that Valentine is a person’s name.

  3. the Jewropean says:

    First of all, secular S. Valetine’s day is like secular Xmas: an oxymoron. S. Valentine’s day definitely is a Catholic holiday and osser for Jews.

    Second, I do think it should be treated by schools just like Xmas, Easter, All Saints etc. And if this is not the case, the ACLU should definitely take action.

    Third, all Christian holidays have Pagan origins. But to me, that doesn’t make a difference, since praying to Cupid, as Pagans do, and praying to S. Valentine, as Catholics do, is both avoda zora, at least for Jews.

  4. DovBear says:

    Valentine’s Day: Why does the ACLU not sue to keep this religion out of school?

    You might also ask, “Why don’t Bill O’Reilly and John Gibson yell and scream about the “liberal war on Valentine’s Day? Why don’t the demand that it be called SAINT Valentines Day?”

    I expect both questions have the same answer (ie: no American thinks Valentines Day is a religious holiday)

  5. Ori Pomerantz says:

    I considered “do whatever you like” to be a sort of default, but you’re right – it is a religious position, just like any other, and to the extent it drowns out other religions, it does affect people’s morality.

    I wonder – do you think that effect comes from the supernatural / pretend supernatural component, or simply from there being no consequences involved?

  6. Jewish Observer says:

    “I was not explaining why I was in the public school because of any embarrassment at being in such a building”

    Sorry, just razzing you.

    – JO

  7. Seth Gordon says:

    My son attends a public pre-school, and my wife gave a presentation to his class on Chanukah. She asked the teacher how to describe the religious aspects of the holiday, and the teacher said that it was OK as long it was phrased as “some people believe such-and-such”. So at least in the Boston public schools, you are still allowed to mention G-d. (And the school had a “holiday pageant” where my son’s class sang “Simple Gifts”, a Shaker hymn.)

    I am not a lawyer, but if I understand the most recent Supreme Court decisions on the topic, the First Amendment comes into play when the government looks like it is endorsing some religion. Halloween and Valentine’s Day obviously have religious roots, and I don’t like how they’re observed in public schools, but I don’t think their form of observance constitutes “endorsement” of either paganism or Catholicism.

    Toby complains that “the teachers openly promote witches and cupids, goblins and Greek gods, pagan rites of spring (the eggs being all that remains of Easter) and orgies of commercialism”. This is all kitsch that detracts from a school’s educational purpose, but I don’t see children coming home from school and asking to be inducted into the local coven or casting spells to help pass their algebra midterms.

  8. Toby Katz says:

    Ori wrote:

    If a religion doesn’t affect the believers’ moral code, does it really count as religion?
    ==========================
    Of course paganism DOES affect believers’ moral code. As the Talmud states, “Bnai Yisrael worshipped idols only to permit themselves sexual immorality.” Halloween, Valentine’s Day and so on provide that delightful frisson of something supernatural along with a belief system that basically says, “Do whatever you like, there are no consequences.”

    Thank you, BTW, for the Chesterton quote. (“If people don’t believe in G-d they will believe in anything.”) How fascinating that the quote is a “phantom quote” that he never really said. But he SHOULD have said — it is so true!

  9. Toby Katz says:

    “I was in another public school—to vote—…”

    … and I don’t listen to Howard Stern, I happened to catch what he said as I was turning the dial…

    =====================

    I should have spelled out my fleeting thought there. I was not explaining why I was in the public school because of any embarrassment at being in such a building. (I can’t think of a reason why I should feel embarassed to be in a public school.) Rather, I was thinking that even if I didn’t send my kids to public school, I was willy nilly exposed to the icons of a pagan religion in a public place — as were all those who went there to vote! Had the polling place displayed Christian symbols there would probably have been some protests — though perhaps not, since some polling places actually are in church buildings, though never in the church sanctuary.

  10. Ori Pomerantz says:

    I accept your point that some people do believe in ghosts, goblins, and maybe cupids. However, that still doesn’t make them religiously significant. If a religion doesn’t affect the believers’ moral code, does it really count as religion? Avodat Elilim (= idolatry) did affect the believers’ moral code – it even made them think they have to kill their some of their children!

    BTW, that quote is typically attributed to Chesterton, but it’s not really his: http://www.chesterton.org/qmeister2/any-everything.htm .

  11. Charles B. Hall, PhD says:

    ‘As these links show, the ACLU does speak up for free speech’

    My examples were about religious expression and religious discrimination, not free speech, and showed that the ACLU is on the right side on those areas. I could show more examples that show that this is not unusual. I don’t agree with the ACLU on everything but they are not the evil force you make them out to be. And in some areas they do a lot of good.

    ‘It is only right-wing Christians—the ones who actually believe in their own religion’

    This is a slander on sincere Christians who aren’t right wing. Christianity has many controversies and we should not get involved, especially by impuning the motives of one side or another. It is not for us to say who is a Christian believer or not.

    If you would provide specific examples for the points in the remainder of your response to me I would try to respond.

  12. Toby Katz says:

    Charles Hall wrote:

    “I went to the ACLU web site and found nothing on Valentine’s Day, either pro or con. They must think there are bigger problems.”

    I don’t know why he imagined the ACLU site would have anything on Valentine’s Day. Their obsession with “separation of church and state” applies only to those religious beliefs that actually impact on morality.

    Charles Hall then provided a number of links to current ACLU litigation. As these links show, the ACLU does speak up for free speech — so to speak — and kudos to them for that. In the current atmosphere of fear and repression on campus, where campus speech codes and “anti-hate” codes have directly muzzled students’ rights of free speech across the country, the ACLU has tended to side with students against leftist-fascist-PC-feminist faculty.

    When you have cases in which different clauses of the Bill of Rights seem to be pitted against each other, it’s fascinating to see the ACLU bend and twist. From one state to another the ACLU (which is actually fifty different state CLU’s) will change and vary — for example, in one state fighting to allow students to distribute religious literature in school, while in another state they will fight to disallow it. What trumps what — does free speech trump the right to be free of religion, or vice versa? They’re still working on that one.

    But in general, as I said, when there is a free speech issue — or when the case can be framed that way — the ACLU is usually pretty good.

    Finally, Charles Hall did not like my formulation of the Foxman Thesis:
    ‘that Christians are pro-life and Jews are pro-abortion’

    about which CH said,

    “This is misleading for many reasons, among them that many Christian churches aren’t
    “pro-life” at all but to the contrary have no problem with abortion.”

    Of course the answer to that is that the ACLU has no problem at all with liberal churches or leftist Christians. It is only right-wing Christians — the ones who actually believe in their own religion — that give the ACLU the heebie-jeebies.

    Take a for-instance: When a Republican candidate for office speaks in a right-wing church, there are angry, faux-fearful cries in the media — “America to Become Theocracy” — “Danger, Danger: Biblical Morality Ahead!” — “Republican Taliban Coming!”

    But when a Democratic candidate speaks in a black church or a liberal Episcopalian church, the lefty pundits go all gaga-eyed and break out in the warm fuzzies. (BTW this is related to the general condescension and patronizing attitude of liberals towards blacks, Moslems and other ethnics — they let them say what they want because they don’t really take them seriously.)

    I do need to point out that when I speak of the ACLU, I use that as a synecdoche for the whole alphabet soup of leftie organizations out there. They are hardly the only ones responsible for having replaced sex with religion as “the one thing above all which must be done in private if civilization is to survive.”

  13. Jewish Observer says:

    “I was in another public school—to vote—…”

    … and I don’t listen to Howard Stern, I happened to catch what he said as I was turning the dial…

  14. Jonathan says:

    Once again… it’s time for separation of school and state. It’s one thing to make schools secular, but the type of extreme secular humanism forced on kids these days might as well be a form of religion.

  15. DovBear says:

    Hmmm. Maybe the ACLU doesn’t get excited about goblims and cupids because they have nothing to do with religion? I have to say, this was actually a decent piece, and it would have been quite good if you’d just resisted the kneejerk urge to bash the ACLU.

  16. Charles B. Hall, PhD says:

    EV, you are correct that the liturgical day begins the evening before. For some of the feasts including All Saints Day (one of their most important days), the night before was a time or prayer and fasting.

    If this doesn’t prove that Halloween is usur for Jews, we might as well celebrate Christmas! Chas v’shalom!!!

  17. Elie says:

    I completely agree that SVD and Halloween are religious holidays, no matter how they’re portrayed otherwise. See my post from last night.

    http://elie-expo.blogspot.com/2006/02/vexed-by-v-day.html

  18. EV says:

    Charles, that’s FEAST, not fast!

    But your point is well taken. With Catholics, the liturgical day begins the evening before (sound familiar?). Halloween is the evening before All Saints Day, a holy day of obligation for Catholics.

  19. Charles B. Hall says:

    I went to the ACLU web site and found nothing on Valentine’s Day, either pro or con. They must think there are bigger problems.

    But seriously, they are just as likely to take positions in favor or religious expression
    as against. See for example:

    http://www.aclu.org/religion/frb/23445prs20060112.html

    http://www.aclu.org/religion/govtfunding/22354prs20051206.html

    http://www.aclu.org/religion/gen/19910prs20050726.html

    ‘that Christians are pro-life and Jews are pro-abortion’

    This is misleading for many reasons, among them that many Christian churches aren’t
    “pro-life” at all but to the contrary have no problem with abortion.

    Also, Halloween is actually a Christian holiday, even though most Christians don’t know it.
    It is actually a fast day! See

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01315a.htm
    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05647a.htm

    “Holidays” like Valentine’s Day and Halloween make me glad I’m Jewish!

  20. Ezzie says:

    We are natural allies with devout, G-d-fearing Christians in the culture wars, but we are not natural theological allies, since the difference between our theology and theirs is PRECISELY the point of difference between Christianity and Judaism.

    This was a very good line. The answer to the ‘why’ you asked originally, which I’d say applies to Halloween as well, is simply that nobody really cares. Kids enjoy Valentine’s Day & Halloween simply because they’re fun, not because they’re serious religious holidays – and adults are no different on either. Easter & Christmas, however, are taken much more seriously by religious Christians.

  21. Toby Katz says:

    Polls show that huge numbers of Americans — including even some self-described atheists — DO believe in ghosts and the supernatural. You should listen to the Art Bell show some time. Somebody famous said, “When people don’t believe in religion, it isn’t that they believe in NOTHING — but rather, they will believe in ANYTHING.” Of course it’s true that the ACLUniks don’t take paganism seriously and don’t think that any intelligent person would — but they also don’t take the Bible seriously and don’t think any intelligent person would.

  22. Ori Pomerantz says:

    If a winged cupid that nobody has worshipped for centuries is a religious symbol, if goblins in whose existence nobody believes are religious symbols, then it’s hard to think of something that isn’t religious, except for Math and Physics. Maybe Chemistry. Valentine’s day and Halloween are allowed because nobody takes them seriously.

    If something does not make moral demands on people, like the modern commercial pretend-paganism, is it religious, or is it just an elaborate game?