It is January. From the kids' point of view, they are back to school after an all too brief winter recess. From the point of view of administrators and the attorneys representing them, it is the end of another season fielding questions about religion in schools. We now have another 10 or even 11 months before it will all come around again.

In the meantime, to remind us of the season just past, the Federal District Court in Delaware (part of the Third Circuit along with Pennsylvania, New Jersey and the Virgin Islands) just issued an opinion concerning a district where a public elementary school teacher was reading Christmas stories to her kids every day in December. The court there did not say it was too religious, but it refused to say it was not, either.

This was an interim decision simply to determine which issues had sufficient legal support to go to trial, so this case is not over. But for those of us standing on the sidelines watching, the decision gave a nice but brief review of some of the law related to the 1st Amendment Establishment clause provision of the U.S. Constitution.

As a guideline, school administrators and teachers should remember to ensure that all displays and activities should have at least some secular purpose, should not have a primary effect of advancing or inhibiting religion, and finally, it should not "foster[s] an excessive government entanglement with religion," (the "entanglement" portion of the above, "requires more than mere interaction between church and state, for some level of interaction has always been tolerated").

Also, before a member of the general public complains, that person should also stand back and examine the offending display or activity as a "reasonable observer" who is "familiar with the history and context" of such displays or activities would see it. If that reasonable person would not see it as an "endorsement of religion" then the courts likely will not take any action and the member of the public should not, either.

The federal case in the District Court of Delaware was Jane Doe v. Cape Henlopen School District, 2011 WL 64073 (D.Del.), but the cited language above is from the Third Circuit cases Stratechuk v. Bd. of Educ., S. Orange-Maplewood Sch. Dist., 587 F.3d 597 (3d Cir.2009), and Child Evangelism Fellowship of N.J. Inc. v. Stafford Twp. Sch. Dist., 386 F.3d 514, 534 (3d Cir.2004).