Judge rhymes to refute a Yuletide lawsuit

Judge rhymes to refute … a Yuletide lawsuit

By Rod Perlmutter , News Editor, Media Central, and wire services

KANSAS CITY, Mo., Dec. 8, 1999  (MediaCentral) – In an era when lawyers are writing best-selling crime novels, it’s not surprising that there are a few judges who pride themselves on their ability to turn a phrase.

U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott, in Cincinnati, displayed her talents this week in response to a lawsuit about Christmas and the First Amendment.

Her response, quoted Tuesday in the Cincinnati Post, was an original nine-stanza poem.

“I thought it was apt in light of Dr. Seuss and How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” said U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott told the Post. “That’s where I got my inspiration.

Judge Susan Dlott dismissed the suit filed by lawyer Richard Ganulin which charged that the federal establishment of Christmas as a national holiday violates the constitution’s First Amendment mandate that the government and religion remain separated.

The judge did dispose,
first, by writing in prose.

In the prose selection of her opinion, the judge wrote that Christmas has become secularized and the U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized that “inescapable fact.”

Rejecting Ganulin’s charge that the establishment of Christmas as a legal public holiday violates his right to equal protection under the law, Judge Dlott said, “The court has found legitimate secular purposes for establishing Christmas as a legal public holiday.”

“When the government decides to recognize Christmas day as a public holiday, it does no more than accommodate the calendar of public activities to the plain fact that many Americans will expect on that day to spend time visiting with their families, attending religious services, and perhaps enjoying some respite from pre-holiday activities,” Judge Dlott said, quoting from previous federal court decisions.

“Ganulin and his family have the freedom to celebrate, or not celebrate, the religious and the secular aspects of the holiday as they see fit. The court simply does not believe that declaring Christmas to be a legal public holiday impermissibly imposes Christian beliefs on non-adherents in a way that violates the right to freedom of association,” the judge said.

Ganulin, an assistant City of Cincinnati solicitor who filed the suit as a private citizen, argued that making Christmas a national highway violates his right to freedom of association.

But the judge ruled that Christmas “has a valid secular purpose, it does not have the effect of endorsing religion in general or Christianity in particular, and it does not impermissibly cause excessive entanglement between church and state.”

And, now, it is time
to read her words in rhyme:

 Judge Susan Dlott’s poem:

The court will address
Plaintiff’s seasonal confusion
Erroneously believing Christmas
MERELY a religious intrusion.

Whatever the reason
Constitutional or other
Christmas IS NOT
An act of Big Brother!

Christmas is about joy
And giving and sharing
It is about the child within us
It is mostly about caring!

One is never jailed
For not having a tree
For not going to church
For not spreading glee!

The court will uphold
Seemingly contradictory causes
Decreeing “The establishment” AND “Santa”
both worthwhile “CLAUS(es)!”

We are all better for Santa
The Easter Bunny too
And maybe the great pumpkin
To name just a few!

An extra day off
Is hardly high treason
It may be spent as you wish
Regardless of reason.

The court having read
The lessons of “Lynch”
refuses to play
The role of the Grinch!

There is room in this country
And in all our hearts too
For different convictions
And a day off too!

Editor’s note:

“Sure,” you might think,
“I know all about
But what did she mean
when she talked about

“Lynch” refers to Lynch v. Donnelly, a 1984 U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld the right of Pawtucket, R.I. to erect a Christmas display in a park owned by a nonprofit organization located in the center of the city. The display included Santa Claus, a Christmas tree, a banner that read “Seasons Greetings,” and a Nativity scene crèche.

Though the display had been used for more than 40 years, a group sued the city, stating that the crèche, because it was owned and funded by the government, violated First Amendment separation of church and state.

The Court ruled, 5-4, in favor of Pawtucket. The majority opinion, written by the late Chief Justice Warren Burger, stated that the U.S. government had a long history of recognizing that religion played a role in public life, and that the use of religious symbols in public, by itself, did not violate the separation of church and state.

“Executive orders and other official announcements of presidents and of the Congress have proclaimed both Christmas and Thanksgiving national holidays in religious terms,” Burger wrote. “And, by acts of Congress, it has long been the practice that federal employees are released from duties on these national holidays, while being paid from the same public revenues that provide the compensation of the chaplains of the Senate and the House and the military services. … Thus, it is clear that government has long recognized — indeed it has subsidized — holidays with religious significance.”

“It would be ironic, however, if the inclusion of a single symbol of a particular historic religious event, as part of a celebration acknowledged in the Western World for 20 centuries, and in this country by the people, by the executive branch, by the Congress, and the courts for two centuries, would so ‘taint’ the city’s exhibit as to render it violative of the (First Amendment separation of church and state),” Burger wrote.

“To forbid the use of this one passive symbol — the crèche — at the very time people are taking note of the season with Christmas hymns and carols in public schools and other public places, and while the Congress and legislatures open sessions with prayers by paid chaplains, would be a stilted overreaction contrary to our history and to our holdings. If the presence of the crèche in this display violates the Establishment Clause, a host of other forms of taking official note of Christmas, and of our religious heritage, are equally offensive to the Constitution.”


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