Christmas Is Finally Safe Declares 6th Circuit Court of Appeals

It's safe to bring out the mistletoe and miniature nativity scene this coming winter. On April 16, The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case of Rich Ganulin, who had sought an end to Christmas as a federal holiday.

Ganulin, a Cincinnati lawyer, filed suit in August 1998. He said that giving federal employees a day off for Christmas violates the First Amendment ban on government establishing a state religion. "I'm not trying to outlaw Christmas," Ganulin, who filed suit as a private citizen, explained at the time. "The law in the U.S. requires that government treat all religious practices and beliefs even-handedly. When you declare one particular religious occasion a public holiday you violate the First Amendment."

By their refusal, the court upheld a dismissal last December in the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. That court had upheld a dismissal one year before by U.S. District Court Judge Susan Dlott. She was the judge who tried out her abilities at Seuss-like rhyme when she wrote in her decision:

Whatever the reason
Constitutional or other
Christmas is not
An act of Big Brother.

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

While covering the case, Ohio media has typically emphasized various courts' comments on the often-secular nature of the holiday.

However, Dlott's decision in 1999 pointed out that "by giving federal employees a paid vacation day on Christmas, the government is doing no more than recognizing the cultural significance of the holiday." She added, "That [the government] may accommodate Christians who wish to engage in religious celebrations of Jesus Christ's birth does not mean that the holiday has an impermissible religious effect."

The Becket Fund had filed a brief Supreme Court, opposing Ganulin's petition, noting that the Sixth Circuit decision "neither conflicts with any decisions of this Court, nor creates or exacerbates any meaningful split of authority among the circuits."

The brief maintained that Supreme Court review was "plainly unnecessary," but suggested that the court might want to consider affirming the appeals court decision "by summary disposition on the merits" in order to make its reasoning in such cases "unmistakably clear" to lower courts.

The Becket Fund represented three federal employees- a U.S. marshal, a Pentagon security guard and a Department of Defense computer expert - who might have faced missing the Christmas holiday, had Ganulin succeeded. All are Christians.

Becket Fund President Kevin Hasson described the Supreme Court's action as "the end of the line for the 'Grinch.'"

"The outcome of this three-year battle to defend the federal Christmas holiday was pretty plain from the beginning," he said. "But it was an important battle to fight. It affirms once again that government may reflect American culture in all its complexity, and that includes designating holidays with religious and non-religious origins alike."

Reprinted from Christmas in My Heart. Vol. 9. Used by permission of Joe L. Wheeler (P.O. Box 1246, Conifer, CO 80433), editor/publisher of the Christmas in My Heart series, published by Tyndale House Publishers and the author.