Why Did a Federal Court Rule That Schools Can Display Christmas Trees, but Not Menorahs?

At a public elementary school in California, the Parent-Teacher Association organized a Christmas-tree lighting; a Jewish parent then asked if she could bring a six-foot inflatable menorah to be positioned alongside the tree. The principal demurred and the issue soon wound up in a federal court, which ruled—based on a 1989 Supreme Court decision—that the school could display the tree, which is a secular symbol, but may not display the menorah, a specifically religious symbol, lest it violate the First Amendment’s establishment clause. Michael A. Helfand examines this counterintuitive finding:

Establishment-clause cases often function as a Rorschach test. But, at a minimum, there are good reasons to question the district court’s importation of a line from the Supreme Court’s 1989 opinion. In that case, County of Allegheny v. ACLU, the Supreme Court addressed multiple religious displays erected in Pittsburgh. One of the displays, set in front of a local government building, included a 45-foot Christmas tree, an 18-foot menorah, and a “salute to liberty sign” with the mayor’s name on it.

In the contemporary case, the Carmel River School sought to exclude, as opposed to include, the menorah in its display. So while some might not normally think of a Christmas tree as a religious symbol, that view might change when government officials prohibit the inclusion of a menorah by its side.

Under those circumstances, you might start to wonder whether the display has started to take on a narrower religious meaning. . . . In this way, the district court’s attempt to pluck a sentence from a 1989 Supreme Court opinion, drop it into a present-day dispute, and then call it a day may not be the most thorough and thoughtful way to deal with the case before it.

And yet, it’s hard not to end with the following relatively straightforward point. Notwithstanding all these contextual niceties and jurisprudential trends, it would be nice to think that—as we desperately seek ways to join together after so long apart—schools could find ways to make sure their students and their families all feel included in communal gatherings. After all we’ve been through, is it really so hard to make space for a 6-foot inflatable menorah?

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

Read more at Forward

More about: Christmas, First Amendment, Freedom of Religion, Supreme Court

 

The New Iran Deal Will Reward Terrorism, Help Russia, and Get Nothing in Return

After many months of negotiations, Washington and Tehran—thanks to Russian mediation—appear close to renewing the 2015 agreement concerning the Iranian nuclear program. Richard Goldberg comments:

Under a new deal, Iran would receive $275 billion of sanctions relief in the first year and $1 trillion by 2030. [Moreover], Tehran would face no changes in the old deal’s sunset clauses—that is, expiration dates on key restrictions—and would be allowed to keep its newly deployed arsenal of advanced uranium centrifuges in storage, guaranteeing the regime the ability to cross the nuclear threshold at any time of its choosing. . . . And worst of all, Iran would win all these concessions while actively plotting to assassinate former U.S. officials like John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, and [his] adviser Brian Hook, and trying to kidnap and kill the Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad on U.S. soil.

Moscow, meanwhile, would receive billions of dollars to construct additional nuclear power plants in Iran, and potentially more for storage of nuclear material. . . . Following a visit by the Russian president Vladimir Putin to Tehran last month, Iran reportedly started transferring armed drones for Russian use against Ukraine. On Tuesday, Putin launched an Iranian satellite into orbit reportedly on the condition that Moscow can task it to support Russian operations in Ukraine.

With American and European sanctions on Russia escalating, particularly with respect to Russian energy sales, Putin may finally see net value in the U.S. lifting of sanctions on Iran’s financial and commercial sectors. While the return of Iranian crude to the global market could lead to a modest reduction in oil prices, thereby reducing Putin’s revenue, Russia may be able to head off U.S. secondary sanctions by routing key transactions through Tehran. After all, what would the Biden administration do if Iran allowed Russia to use its major banks and companies to bypass Western sanctions?

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Iran nuclear deal, Russia, U.S. Foreign policy