Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Continued failure to understand separation of church and state

While Christmas is practically a secular holiday, more about shopping than anything else, the reality is that it is a religious event.  And in the US, the Constitution, specifically the First Amendment states that there should be no establishment of a state-sanctioned religion.  This is commonly referred to as separation of church and state.

And while plenty of the electorate and elected officials want to deny this and make the US a more officially religious country, the law is the law.

Since Kennedy Performing Arts Center, located in Washington, DC, is a facility owned and operated by the federal government, it is subject to the clause in the Constitution concerning separation of church and state.

Image from 2012:  Metro Latino USA.

Although the courts have been inconsistent on their rulings concerning displays of Christmas-related symbols on government property, we have a National Christmas Tree at the White House and another by the US Capitol, etc.

That doesn't sit well with Darryl Summers, according to this letter, "Where's the Christmas spirit at the Kennedy Center?," in the Washington Post:
The security office at the Kennedy Center should be alerted that the Grinch is on the prowl there. While attending a performance of “Elf the Musical,” I realized that the center had little sign that much of the United States was celebrating a festive season: There was not a single holiday decoration or reminder in any public area that I visited. Even last year’s small, lonely Christmas tree in the Grand Foyer was nowhere to be seen this time.

Though the Kennedy Center entices patrons with such cheerful holiday offerings as “Elf the Musical” and last year’s “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,” I emerged joyfully from the Opera House only to discover that I had been transported to the home of Ebenezer Scrooge. If not for the cheerful nutcrackers for sale in the gift shop (thank you, at least, Mr. Tchaikovsky), there was nary a sign of holiday-ness.

Maybe next year the Kennedy Center board of directors could at least buy a few white beards for ushers (who all wear bright red jackets anyway) to stand in for Santa, who is very busy this time of year. Or maybe we should put the Kennedy Center on Santa’s Naughty List.
I do wish that like the letter commentary in publications like The Nation, there could be a response when people write stuff like this.

Although the Post did run a semi-related piece on the Phil Robertson "controversy".  See "The First Amendment doesn't hold all the answers."

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At 9:34 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

This issue -- and your take on it -- reminds me of other discussions we've had on the differences beteween Europe and the US.

And I think one of the aspect is lawyers.

Christmas trees/1st amendment is a classic common law issue -- by which I mean it is all case law. And if you read through it all, I think you can reasonably come to a conclusion that the Christmas tree issue isn't a big one. Creches are, apparently.

I'm not saying you are wrong (or that I am right) but part of your objection is the TYPE of analysis being used here, which is based on legal thinking.

In the same way, US zoning and codes are too dominated by a legal though process rather than the planner mentality. Not in the adversial sense, but that we like to put things down into codes, and when we do that you really need a lawyer.

Take for instance your famous Nashville map, and imagine using that picture as your direction, rather an a think book of zoning codes.

(and a lot of it is about power, not law. see discussion on codifying law in the first part of the 1800s vs using the common law)

To be short, I'd say perhaps in Europe the legal profession doesn't have it fingers in quite so much, and the planning process is more advanced as a result.

At 12:42 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

Note that I agree with you 100% about the role of lawyers and codification and how it can be incredibly restrictive.

2. You're a lawyer, I am not... but I do think that we agree that the Christmas tree is seen as almost a-religious, not the creche, and in someways, courts are deciding to "let it all hang out" rather than forbid one or the other religions from doing holiday "decorating."

This article shows a blocking, but later they agreed to let various groups display I think...

3. Still, federal buildings and facilities have a different standard to adhere to, because of the Constitution.

Interesting articles about the A&E debacle and the difference between "free speech" and "government" vs. "private" restrictions.

At 12:59 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Well,lawyers have their place (and again, I'd argue the public display of religious symbols is one they are pretty good at, although extremely confusing) but they are really bad at planning.

Which is strange because they do love flow charts (but not matrixes). I probably have a flowchart from Con Law on the christmas display issue but threw it out years ago.

decent overview of newer cases.

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