Can Jesus Stop Kids from Trick-or-Treating in Public Schools?

Halloween time again!  Time for costumes and candy.  Time for Charlie Brown getting rocks in his sack.

Rock Candy

Rock Candy

Can public schools participate?  Does this holiday endorse some sort of religion?  And, most intriguing, are conservative Christians going to become the leading group fighting AGAINST religion in public schools?

In a recent article in Time Magazine, Nick Gillespie decries school administrators who cancel Halloween activities.  Gillespie cites the case of Inglewood Elementary, outside of Philadelphia.  The principal explained to parents that the school had canceled Halloween activities due to religious sensitivity.  “Some holidays,” the principal wrote,

like Halloween, that some see as secular, are viewed by others as having religious overtones. The district must always be mindful of the sensitivity of all the members of the community with regard to holidays and celebrations of a religious, cultural or secular nature. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that school districts may not endorse, prefer, favor, promote or advance any religious beliefs

Nertz, Gillespie responded.  “Unless there’s a particularly active group of druids in the district,” Gillespie argued, “or the parade ends with a ritual sacrifice, it seems unlikely that there’s much to worry about.”

But Gillespie’s missing the point.  The pressure to avoid Halloween comes not from druids but from conservative Christians.  Some such Christians have long viewed Halloween as a dangerously “pagan” holiday.  Why shouldn’t they pressure school administrators to ban such celebrations in public schools?  After all, conservative Christians often complain that their religion is the only religion to be banned from public schools.

Anyone familiar with the culture of conservative American Protestantism will recognize this theme.

To cite just one example, Linda Harvey of Mission: America complained that Halloween empowered demons and false gods.  “Everyone thinks Halloween is harmless fun,” Harvey warned on her radio show,

but just for a second, let’s look at from God’s perspective, at least from what He’s told us in His word. We’ve been taught not to worship or bow down to or in any way acknowledge any other gods. But Halloween is built around just exactly that. Behind the costumes and candy is a rebellious flirtation with fallen angels and deceptive spirits, and this definitely does not honor God. Where are these other spirits and gods you ask? Well, Halloween is all about fortune telling, magic, Ouija board, witches, it’s really hard to get away from all this. It’s definitely spiritual and that spirituality is not from our Lord.

This anti-Halloween sentiment is so strong among some conservative Protestants, it can be spoofed by any evangelical with a sense of humor.  Last year, for instance, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Russell Moore offered a quick field guide to anti-Halloween sentiment among evangelicals:

An evangelical is a fundamentalist whose kids dress up for Halloween.

A conservative evangelical is a fundamentalist whose kids dress up for the church’s “Fall Festival.”

A confessional evangelical is a fundamentalist whose kids dress up as Zwingli and Bucer for “Reformation Day.”

A revivalist evangelical is a fundamentalist whose kids dress up as demons and angels for the church’s Judgment House community evangelism outreach.

An Emerging Church evangelical is a fundamentalist who has no kids, but who dresses up for Halloween anyway.

A fundamentalist is a fundamentalist whose kids hand out gospel tracts to all those mentioned above.

Though Moore wrote with his tongue firmly in his cheek, the humor relies on a real sentiment among some conservative Christians.  School officials like the ones Gillespie writes about are responding to real concerns.  This time, it is conservative Protestants who are fighting to keep religion out of public schools.  As they have in other cases, such as the yoga curriculum in Encinitas, California, many conservative Christians want to keep public schools as free of what they consider false religion.