the blog of DC Drinking Liberally

December 12, 2005

Does the ACLU Really Hate Candy Canes?


The ACLU is a favorite target of the people whipping themselves up into a frenzy about a supposed War on Christmas. Last week, for example, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council put out a radio commentary called “ACLU in Whoville”, which included the sentence

Feeling threatened by the ACLU and others, governments, schools and businesses have banned Christmas carols, candy canes and in some cases, even the words “Merry Christmas”.

It’s interesting that Perkins mentioned candy canes. Three years ago, Jerry Falwell wrote an opinion piece titled “The Case of the Offensive Candy Canes”, and in it he also called out the ACLU:

Seven high-school students in Westfield, Mass., have been suspended solely for passing out candy canes containing religious messages. […]

The fact is, students have the right to free speech in the form of verbal or written expression during non-instructional class time. And yes, students have just as much right to speak on religious topics as they do on secular topics — no matter what the ACLU might propagate. Quite simply, school officials may not censor religious or Christian messages solely because another person might be “offended.”

But was the ACLU involved in the candy cane case? The answer is yes, as you can see from an ACLU press release:

NORTHAMPTON, MA — The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts today asked a federal district court in Springfield to protect the First Amendment rights of high school students who were disciplined by school officials for distributing candy canes with religious messages just before Christmas.

“Students have a right to communicate ideas, religious or otherwise, to other students during their free time, before or after class, in the cafeteria, or elsewhere,” said ACLU cooperating attorney Jeffrey Pyle, the main author of a friend-of-the-court brief submitted in the case.

The ACLU was involved — but on the side of the students. As is often the case with right-wing rants about the ACLU, Perkins and Falwell were responding to their own fantasy view of the organization, not to the real ACLU, which agreed with Falwell. The real ACLU defends the rights of religious people all the time. Unfortunately, many conservative religious folks are unable to distinguish between students expressing their own views and school administrations or other government bodies imposing religious expressions on captive audiences using public funds.

See Tom Tomorrow for another story about conservatives reacting to their fantasy satanic ACLU. Apparently they think sending Christmas cards to ACLU headquarters will cause the organization to spontaneously combust or something. Tom has an idea about where to send cards if you’re really interested in triggering a temper tantrum.

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