WALTERS: Why The First Amendment Doesn’t Protect Satan Statues

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Ryan Walters Contributor
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Every year around this time, children and adults alike are greeted by the joyful, traditional harbingers of the Christmas season: Christmas trees, wreaths, candy canes, Santa Claus, and manger scenes. This year in Iowa, however, people of goodwill were greeted by a literal depiction of Satan in the form of a Baphomet statue. That is, until it was summarily and understandably beheaded by a Christian Navy veteran in an act of civil disobedience.

Every year conservatives talk about the war on Christmas. Every year we’re dismissed by the left and the corporate media. But when the people of Iowa are forced to choose between either having a statue of the Evil One on taxpayer grounds or not having Christmas displays at all, can any casual observer really argue otherwise? And while this is an extreme example, the war on Christmas is just as pervasive in America’s public schools, though many of us have gotten used to it by now. How many of us recall seeing our children’s schools sterilized of any reference to Christmas? Or any real meaningful religious holiday, for that matter?

Proponents of the Baphomet statue argue that their “religion” is just as valid as anyone else’s and that if Christians and Jews want to erect manger scenes and menorahs on public grounds, then Satanists must be given equal time and space. There are several people in the legal wing of Conservative Inc. who make a similar argument claiming that the First Amendment demands total neutrality in the public square and does not allow government to make any sort of value judgments.

They make this argument even though the Satanists in question are clearly operating in bad faith, effectively as constitutional patent trolls who are weaponizing the First Amendment instead of seeking the blessings of liberty. 

The American founding generation not only understood that religion and the virtue it teaches were necessary to the preservation of the republic, but they also understood that religion was a necessary component of the public square, even when it came to taxpayer-funded institutions.

Most people know the lines about foreign policy in George Washington’s Farewell Address, but too many today overlook where he makes it clear that “religion and morality are indispensable supports” of political prosperity and the wellbeing of a republic. John Adams made it clear that our constitution — complete with its Bill of Rights — was made for “a moral and religious People” and was “wholly inadequate” to the government of any other kind of people. Furthermore, he made that point as president to members of the Massachusetts Militia.

Finally, while the founding generation had a much more robust understanding of federalism than ours, which meant that the federal Congress didn’t get involved in too much education policy, they understood that they had such power when it came to matters within the territories. In the Northwest Ordinance, the Articles of Confederation Congress formally encouraged the creation of schools in the new territories, acknowledging that “religion, morality, and knowledge” were “necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind.”

To look at this and the countless other examples of the founding fathers’ views on religion and morality in the public square and conclude that these men intended for the First Amendment to protect statues of Satan in the same way they protect Christmas displays just doesn’t square with reality. It’s akin to believing, as some do, that the First Amendment was meant to protect drag queen story hour events the same way it protects non-obscene political speech. Again, an honest appraisal of the prevailing mindset among those who passed the First Amendment out of Congress and ratified it in the state conventions proves both propositions to be patently absurd.

The same is true in America’s public schools. Education freedom does not just mean giving parents and students the means and freedom to make educational choices where their own faith traditions and holiday traditions are honored. It also means allowing for parents and educators to decide, community by community, what they choose to honor and display on the schools and public grounds under their own control and influence — through deliberation and the democratic process — without the dictatorial fiats and legal contortions of unelected federal judges saying otherwise.

People of faith and goodwill know there has been a war on Christmas since the days of King Herod and that there will always be those who wish to diminish and obfuscate celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the savior of the world. We also know who is really behind these efforts because we do not battle against the powers of this world, as scripture tells us. But despite all this opposition, we do not have to yield in the War on Christmas — nor would our founders expect us to.  

Ryan Walters is Superintendent of the Oklahoma State Department of Education. You can follow him on X: @RyanWaltersSupt.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.