Ho Ho Ho, It's Off To Court You Go!

It's that time of year again. Time to deck the halls, bake cookies, and spread holiday cheer by suing the pants off your neighbors. CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen unwraps all you need to know to have a Merry Litigious Christmas. – Ed.
(AP Photo/Lisa Jensen)
I wish I could report happily that the law is crystal clear when it comes to holiday displays (like crèches or Menorahs) that inevitably are placed onto government property this time of year. I wish I could explain clearly when the first amendment prohibits such displays and when it embraces them. But alas I cannot. And neither, apparently, can the Supreme Court, which has failed miserably during the past generation in providing any risk-free guidelines about the annual late-year ritual of feverish litigation that is as expected as Rudolph and as scorned as Scrooge.

Right now, as near as I can tell, it is constitutional for local officials to allow a holiday display that has "religious" connotations so long as that display is included among other displays that tamper down any idea that local government is endorsing one religion over another or religion per se. This legal logic has led us to the Jersey City modelof holiday displays whereby local officials, to save their Christmas tree and Menorah display from being held unconstitutional, added to that display a sled, a Santa Claus, Kwanzaa symbols and, of course, that post-light of constitutional symbolism: Frosty the Snowman. You read that right. Frosty truly saved Christmas in Jersey City that year.

So although it's a little late in the game for this year, if you are still hankering to see a "holiday" display on your town's public property make sure you think big, expansive, and crassly commercial. Think crèche but also think jumbo plastic Santa. You'll increase your chances that a federal judge out there will allow your display to stand through the holiday. Also, it'll keep your mind off otherwise bugging your neighbors by complaining about the "peace symbol" wreath they have chosen to place upon a wall of there home this season. Again, I'm not kidding. Some stout folks (with clearly way too much time on their hands) who are running a homeowners association in southwest Colorado are complaining about these days that the peace symbol is offensiveto some who live in the private subdivision. Can you imagine? Of course you can. Tis the season.