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Every year, school teachers and administrators grapple with the decision whether or not to allow students to celebrate Halloween on campus. An increasing number of schools are banning Halloween parties and costumes for religious reasons. And it's not just public schools avoiding entanglement issues. Even private schools are joining the movement, as they try to be sensitive to all cultures that have joined the American melting pot.
Primer on the History of Halloween
Halloween began as a Celtic tradition, known as Samhain, to welcome the souls of the formerly deceased back to the village for a walk around the living for the day. Villagers lit bonfires and offered food to these spirits, in the hopes of warding off evil spells. Later, around the 8th century, Catholics began to celebrate All Saints Day on November 1st, and the vigil, on the evening of October 31st, became known as All Souls Evening, or All Hallows Evening, which became Hallowe'en.
First Amendment Clashes With Halloween
Originally, some schools banned Halloween as a religious holiday so as not to favor the Catholics over other Christian and non-Christian groups. The First Amendment's Establishment Clause guarantees that government entities, like public schools, may not prefer any religion over another, or become "excessively entangled" with religion. Back in 1995, the public schools in Los Altos, California were among the first in the country to do so. According to the school board president, "Teaching about Halloween will fall under the guidelines of teaching about religious beliefs and customs," Phil Faillace said. "And school time may not be used to celebrate Halloween, just as it may not be used to celebrate Easter, Yom Kippur or Ramadan."
In recent years, however, both Christians and Muslims have added on another layer of First Amendment protest. Conservative Christian groups have wanted to do away with Halloween in the school because they believe it glorifies the devil, and therefore violates their First Amendment rights. On that same note, conservative Muslims consider Halloween haram, or forbidden, since they believe it represents the "shaytan," or devil. Rather than get involved in all of these constitutional issues, some schools decide to pay deference to everyone, and call the whole holiday off.
Is There a Viable Compromise?
In its place, some schools have instituted completely non-denomination new holidays, such as "Fall Festival" or "Hat Day." But not without parental protests, often creating more of a commotion than the displaced trick or treaters. Some parents believe that if America is to be a melting pot, and not a Salad Bowl, it needs to become tolerant and adopt all cultures and traditions, and not just keep them separate to appease everyone. But perhaps the concept of a true melting pot is too ideological to be true.
If your child's school is celebrating Halloween, and you don't think it's constitutionally correct, contact a civil rights attorney to discuss this hot topic, and see if it may be time to change things in your school district.