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First Liberty Briefing

First Liberty Briefing is an exclusive podcast hosted by First Liberty Institute’s Deputy General Counsel Jeremy Dys. In about 90-seconds, once a week, Jeremy recalls the stories that have shaped America’s religious liberty, from the founding era to current legal battles and more. It’s an insider’s look at the stories, cases, people, and laws that have made America the world’s leader in protecting religious liberty.
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Dec 3, 2018

A New York town was at the center of an atheist’s demands to remove religious references from an annual Christmas event. Listen at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing


Elaine Spaziano organized “Christmas on the Canal” for seventeen years.  It became a tradition for most of the residents of Spencerport, New York.  But, like every good Christmas story, there was a Grinch.

An atheist complained to city officials about the annual celebration because it included carols, tree lighting, a Nativity scene, and other festivities.  In response, the town told Elaine to remove religious references and secularize the event by changing “Christmas” to “Holiday” and getting rid of such displays as the nativity scene.  Elaine refused and the town pulled its sponsorship, seemingly ending the annual tradition.

But, not unlike the Who’s down in Whoville, the community rose up in support of the event and provided the necessary funding to continue the annual celebration.

“Christmas on the Canal” continues to this day, though I don’t know if the town sponsors it. Cities across the country need to understand that the law allows your town to sponsor such displays, so long as the displays contain the right mixture of the sacred and secular. Or, as the Supreme Court has said, City-supported Christmas displays are permissible under the Constitution, so long as there is no “endorsement of religious faith” and the display is, as the court noted, “simply a recognition of cultural diversity.” 

So, this Christmas don’t let your town be a Scrooge.  It’s ok to celebrate Christmas on the town square.

To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.

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