Decorations Celebrate Religious Culture
With the holidays right around the corner, MHS has been decorated in the spirit of celebration: trees, snowmen and reindeer in the Library, stockings hung over a teacher’s door, and wintry scenes of snow and holiday cheer on the doors of classrooms.
Senior legal council for the Student Press Law Center Mike Hiestand helped explain the limitations on expression of religion in public schools.
“If students want to wear their ‘Merry Christmas’ sweaters, or their Kwanza t-shirts or hand-out Hanukah cards, there are no limitations on them as individuals,” Hiestand said. “These restrictions apply only to teachers, the government officials who represent the state.”
The First Amendment is the law, and it is intended to protect minority religions, which includes prohibiting the endorsement of a religion. But, Hiestand said that when getting down to the details of what is and isn’t allowed, there are a lot of grey areas.
“The reality is that we come from a very deeply Christian background in the US, and change is always hard,” Hiestand said. “So that’s what we’re seeing in a lot of places, a sort of reluctance to leave traditions.”
Hiestand said in American society today, there is also a cultural aspect of Christmas and other religious holidays that have been given a place in school. An example of this includes holiday songs performed in music programs.
“There’s not a black and white solution,” Hiestand said. “Courts seem to be saying that a nod to Christmas and to religious practices is okay, but there is a line over which this goes too far and becomes a problem, and I don’t know if there’s really a clear test for determining where that line is right now.”.
Lynn Richardson, social studies teacher, supports school decorations for winter and the holidays, but she said there is always room for improvement.
“I love door decorations,” Richardson said. “They do it in elementary schools, and I think it maybe gives kids flashbacks to when they were in elementary school. Should we be more inclusive? Probably. But, I think the intention was to get people to feel the warmth of this time of year.”
Richardson said the holidays is a time when an increased involvement of religion in schools is overlooked.
“Tradition is something very hard to break, especially in West County,” Richardson said. “There’s typically conservatives here who value tradition and Christianity, so that is going to be predominant. Until this area changes, that’s not going to change.”
But, when it comes to academics, Richardson said there is never any reason for a teacher to endorse his or her own religion.
“I’m just teaching history, and that’s just the way it should stay,” Richardson said. “Our part as teachers is to educate on these world religions, and what they actually stand for, and not just rely on the media and society and how they portray certain religions.”
Shaezaf Shah, junior, said teachers maintain a separation of church and state. As someone who practices a minority religion, Islam, Shah said she is not bothered by decorations in respect of holidays for other religions.
“I’m pretty sure there are people who aren’t Christian who give gifts to each other, so religion and holidays should be considered separate, especially in schools, because not everyone follows the same religion, but they might still like the Christmas,” Shah said.
Shah said there is a general awareness at MHS to keep religion private.
“The holiday decorations are just for holiday spirit and to know that winter is here, and that just happens to be Christmas time,” Shah said.
Kayla Schweitzer, junior, is a staff reporter for the Messenger. She runs Cross Country and Track and Field, and is involved in HOSA, Jewish Student Union,...