Christmas lighting ceremony in Prescott under attackPosted: Updated:
A Wisconsin-based atheist group claims Prescott's Christmas lighting ceremony violates the U.S. Constitution.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the Arizona secretary of state and Prescott city and school officials complaining that their participation in the annual festivity in front of the county courthouse was illegal. The foundation said it was also upset that school children sang Christmas carols during the event.
"It is legal to celebrate national holidays like Christmas in the public square," said Jeremy Tedesco, senior legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, which is an alliance-building legal ministry advocating for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
"Public officials should not fear attacks from atheists because their freedom to participate in community celebrations is protected under the First Amendment," Tedesco said in his own letter to the Arizona secretary of state and various city and school officials in Prescott. [Click here to read the full letter (PDF)]
"The attacks on Christmas are part of a larger campaign to snuff out all references to our Christian heritage and are best ignored," Tedesco said.
The lighting ceremony in Prescott has been held annually for close to 60 years in the Courthouse plaza - a common area for free speech activities in Prescott, Tedesco noted.
The Alliance Defending Freedom letter further explained the ceremony was not government speech since it is "coordinated by the Prescott Chamber of Commerce, which is a private organization."
"The speech that occurs at the ceremony is private in nature and fully protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution," Tedesco said.
In 1989, then-Governor Rose Mofford extended the official proclamation that Prescott is "Arizona's Christmas City."
Copyright 2012 CBS 5 (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.