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The Establishment Claus

by Jay Marshall Wolman

Five years ago, Josh Blackman asked whether the NORAD tracking of St. Nick violated the Establishment Clause.  After all, he is sort of a religious icon.  I would suggest it doesn’t.

This year, the Consumerist delved a bit more into the history.  It seems that a kid was concerned about that right jolly old elf, and he asked CONAD (predecessor to NORAD) about Santa.  This proved to be a great public relations move, to show how our might could protect Mr. Claus from those godless commie bastards.

This was in the 1950s (1955 specifically).  The Pledge of Allegiance had “under God” added in 1954.  Paper currency was emblazened with “In God we Trust” in 1956.  God was like Adele.

Challenges to the government’s recognition of a supreme being have generally failed.  But what of Sinter Klaas?  After all, he is somehow related to the canonized St. Nicholas and tied into the birthday of Jesus.  Looking at the context in which NORAD began the tradition, there was a governmental interest in simply promoting the differences between Americans and Soviets, and the Soviet atheism was a prime target.  And though Santa is a Christian figure, Ganulin v. United States permitted Christmas day as a Federal holiday, noting that it had been largely secularized. (For the record, I came up with the title to this post before I read Ganulin.)

Though today we no longer fear the red menace (I’m talking about the Soviets, not Santa), NORAD could probably still make out a good claim that the popularity of the Santa Tracker engenders sufficient good will and serves a secular purpose.  I can’t, though, endorse Ganulin until Santa visits all the atheist, muslim, hindu, buddhist, zoroastrian, jewish, etc. boys and girls the world over.

[In other news, Santa probably is in significant violation of FAA regulations, and his coal production facilities (for the naughties) probably run afoul of MSHA regulations.]


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