Churches are welcome to openly celebrate Christmas. So are individual families, who can put up Nativity scenes in their yards.
But when the local fire department begins promoting the birth of Jesus — by putting up a sign out front that says “Happy Birthday Jesus” and “We Love You” as if they were children — they’ve clearly crossed the line. They might as well put up a sign that says “Jews Don’t Matter” since the implication is already there.
Earlier this year, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent the Utica Fire Department Station 4 (in New York) a letter addressing the sign since it had gone up at the end of 2013. Fire Chief Russell Brooks responded by saying the Thomas More Law Center gave them permission to do it… and then attached a form letter sent to him by the religious group.
The relevant part of that letter said, correctly, that religious displays (like Nativity scenes) were allowed on government property as long as an objective observer could see the full display and know that the government isn’t endorsing a specific religion. So a Nativity scene might get a pass as long as there was also a Hannukah display and an atheist display nearby.
But a sign that gives a shout-out to Jesus? It seems pretty one-sided to me.
This week, FFRF’s Rebecca Markert sent the fire department another letter letting them know that:
The sign at Fire Station 4 explicitly invokes the name Jesus, an exclusively Christian god, and makes a direct statement in support of that deity… This is precisely the sort of religious endorsement prohibited by the Establishment Clause.
We’ll see if they want to keep fighting this battle.
I don’t know why it’s so hard to just move the sign to someone’s yard. It’s not like Jesus is going to cry because the fire department’s birthday card isn’t publicly visible. Hell, I’m sure he’s not a fan of fire to begin with.