In today’s society, you might be wondering if saying Merry Christmas can get you sued. Probably not, but there are some things you might want to be aware of.
Is it OK to say Merry Christmas?
To begin with, it’s almost always OK to go around wishing everyone you meet a Merry Christmas. You don’t even have to wait until Christmas day.
You have a First Amendment right to give season’s greetings or even very rude greetings.
You can never be held liable just because someone didn’t like something that you said.
Exception #1: Harassment
One thing to watch out for is a potential lawsuit for harassment.
Harassment is conduct that’s designed to annoy or alarm another person. This takes way more than just one unwanted greeting.
Let’s say you wish your neighbor a Happy Christmas and she tells you not so say that to her because she doesn’t celebrate Christmas. So far, you can’t get sued.
But if you keep doing it every time you see her, now you might be getting into potential lawsuit territory.
What your neighbor would need to prove is that you’re not just obnoxiously celebrating Christmas, but that you’re specifically targeting her and trying to make her feel bad.
It’s a case that could go either way, but why get yourself into that situation?
Exception #2: Religious Discrimination
Another reason you could get sued is for religious discrimination.
Again, just saying Merry Christmas to someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus isn’t discrimination.
But if you know your neighbor is Jewish and keep saying Happy Christmas, it may be taken as an attack on their religious beliefs.
While you do have a general right to give religious greetings, doing so to target a neighbor’s religious beliefs could be taken as a violation of their fair housing rights or other civil rights. Neighbors also have religious freedom.
So even if your intent is to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, you don’t want to get into a situation where someone else could say you’re attacking another religion.
Exception #3: Before Thanksgiving
There’s no law about celebrating Christmas before Thanksgiving, but there should be. If you do this, you’re a bad person and the judge or jury should ignore the law and find you guilty of illegal speech.
Can a business celebrate Christmas?
Business owners generally have the same rights as individuals including to recognize religious holidays in their business.
They’re generally nothing wrong with putting up decorations or wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.
What you don’t want to do is cross the line into discrimination. This can include:
Making customers or employees feel uncomfortable if they don’t celebrate Christmas
Requiring employees to say Merry Christmas or other religious greetings they don’t believe in
Intentionally repeating Merry Christmas to someone who told you not to
So why do some businesses insist on canceling Christmas and only mentioning “the holidays?”
They might not celebrate Christmas
They might want to avoid any possibility of litigation
They might think customers who don’t celebrate Christmas will avoid them
They just don’t want to spend money putting up decorations
That’s their choice, but there is no law saying you can’t put up candy canes and have Santa and an elf greeting people at your door.
What about government employees?
Government employees have additional rules to follow. That’s because the First Amendment prevents the government from establishing a religion.
Government employees have to avoid creating the appearance that they’re pushing one faith over another.
While the main potential lawsuits are the same as described above, organizations like the ACLU regularly file lawsuits to block any mention of religious holidays on government property.
Can your employer stop you from saying Merry Christmas?
Your employer can set rules at work.
If your employer tries to block you from recognizing a religious holiday outside of a work setting, that’s an obvious case of religious discrimination.
Inside the workplace, it’s not uncommon for employers to require you to say Happy Holidays or other secular greetings.
This is OK if your employer doesn’t want any mention of any religious holiday to avoid potential issues. It’s also OK if your employer is just a grinch and doesn’t want to celebrate holidays.
It may be discriminatory if your employer only bans the mention of one holiday or targets Christians but not other groups.
Can a school keep students from saying Merry Christmas?
Largely thanks to lawsuits from organizations like the ACLU, many schools have banned holiday parties and any mentions of Christmas. Schools now have a December break that just happens to be around 12/25 for no reason at all.
Schools can generally stop official recognition of holidays just like employers can. They just have to make sure they’re not targeting Christians in particular.
If schools try to discipline children for giving a greeting to each other, they may be taking it too far.
Some states are even passing laws making it legal to say Merry Christmas.
Can an employer make you say Happy Holidays?
An employer can usually make you say Happy Holidays during the holiday season. Their intent would generally need to be to avoid mentions of religion as opposed to targeting a particular reason.
If you’d prefer to say Good Morning or Good Afternoon if you’re limited to Happy Holidays, your employer can still probably make you say Happy Holidays. Employers can generally give employees a script they have to follow.
If you want to sue over being forced to say Happy Holidays, you’d need to show how that’s discrimination against one of your sincere beliefs.
If you’re acting as a private citizen in your free time, you can generally celebrate how you want as long as you’re not intentionally trying to bother other people.
If you own a business, you can celebrate your holidays but need to be careful not to force anything on someone who doesn’t.
If you believe you’ve been discriminated against in the workplace, you’ll want to talk to an employment law lawyer. Other lawsuits involving religion are generally handled by civil rights lawyers.