The American Civil Liberties Union takes seriously its commitment to defending the First Amendment of the United States Constitution by not only working to ensure that "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion" but, just as importantly, by helping to guarantee that there be no "prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The ACLU is often better known for its work preventing the government from promoting and funding selected religious activities, but that is only half our charge. By ensuring that the government refrains from promoting religion or any particular faith, the ACLU helps ensure that freedom of religion and belief remains an important principle of our democracy.
For some, however, misrepresenting the ACLU when it comes to religion has become a holiday tradition akin to making eggnog and decking the halls with holly. Invariably during the run-up to Christmas, the ACLU is annually and wrongfully disparaged for waging a mythical "War on Christmas." In fact, the ACLU zealously defends the right of both non-believers to practice no religion at all and religious believers, including Christians, to practice their religion freely. And the ACLU’s zeal certainly does not take a vacation during the holidays.
Christmas displays, for example – things like nativity displays – are perfectly acceptable at homes and churches. Religious expression – during the holidays and throughout the year – is a valued part of the First Amendment rights guaranteed all citizens. But government should never be in the business of endorsing things like religious displays. Religion is best served when the government plays no role in promoting any particular holiday or any individual religious tradition. That job is best suited for individuals, families and religious communities. For when that decision is left in their hands, and kept out of the hands of the government, those who decide to are truly free to celebrate the religious holiday of their choice.