Wednesday, April 28, 1999

Secular role argued in Christmas case


Good Friday appeal decision adds holiday twist

BY BEN L. KAUFMAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        One civil libertarian's defeat could be the key to a like-minded litigator's victory.

        Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit said Good Friday had become so secular that it did not violate the First Amendment when Kenton County closes its offices and courts on Good Friday.

        Richard Ganulin, a Hyde Park resident suing to end Christmas as a national, public holiday, jumped on that 6th Circuit reasoning and said it proves his case:

        • Kenton County changed the name of its Good Friday closing to “Spring Holiday.”

        Christmas still is called Christmas.

        • Spring Holiday, which always coincides with Good Friday, is characterized by increased road traffic as families pursue the secular purpose of an early start on vacations.

        There is no heavy road traffic on Dec. 25.

        • Spring Holiday on Good Friday is similar to the legal public holiday which falls on the Friday before the Kentucky Derby.

        Suggesting an analogy between the crucifixion of Jesus and a horse race fulfills the prophecy that “government is just as detrimental to religion as religion is to government.”

        • Kenton County officials did all they can do to prevent any impression that they are endorsing religion.

        Congress should do all it can and at least change the legal public Christmas holiday to a “Winter Holiday.”

        Attorney Ganulin says that the law making the uniquely Christian holiday of Christmas into a national public holiday violates the First Amendment separation of church and state and freedom of association and his 14th Amendment right to equal protection.

        The Justice Department has asked U.S. District Judge Susan J. Dlott to dismiss his suit. The response, drafted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Donetta D. Wiethe, said, in part:

        “The celebration of Christmas as a national holiday cannot be viewed, by a reasonable person, as an endorsement of religion. The holiday itself is so deeply imbued with secular connotations that, indeed, its religious origins are lost on many.”

        Christmas as a legal holiday has a secular/cultural purpose and does not excessively entangle government with religion, she said, and its celebration has become part of the “fabric of our society.”

        Ms. Wiethe could not be reached on Monday for comment on Mr. Ganulin's latest argument.

        If Judge Dlott does not dismiss Mr. Ganulin's complaint, a trial probably will be this year.

       



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