Valentine's day and religious conflict
To many people, Valentine's Day is one of those nice warm
fuzzy times of the year -- a totally innocuous celebration which honors love and romance.
However, the day does celebrate love, and love can be related to erotic and
sexual behavior. Some faith groups are quite concerned that sexual activity
be strictly limited to within heterosexual marriages. They worry that the sex drive
may get out of control, particularly among youth, who they wish to remain
celibate until marriage -- a hope that fails 90 to 95% of the time in North America.
Some groups around the world have observed this day in non-traditional,
sometimes violent or argumentative ways. Some recent (and one not so recent) conflicts over
Valentine's Day are listed below. All but one seem to contain a component of
1929-FEB-14: St. Valentine's Day Massacre: Perhaps
the least traditional celebration of Valentine's Day happened in Chicago.
Five men, dressed in police uniforms, lined up seven gang members in a
garage and killed them in a hail of bullets. Al Capone was blamed for the
Massacre, even though he was in Florida at the time. The crime has never
been solved. However, the execution format of this crime shocked the
American public. Some blamed Prohibition as the cause of the violence, and
began to favor its repeal.
1995-JUN-10: Religion in the public schools:
Attorney Craig Parshall delivered testimony before the Subcommittee on
the Constitution of the Committee on the Judiciary of the
U.S. House of Representatives. 1 He main area of
expertise is civil liberties litigation, and particularly religious
liberty cases. He works for the Rutherford Institute, a
Fundamentalist Christian legal group. He discussed the case of Jennifer
Bachhus, a 3rd grade student in a public school in Wisconsin. "A few
days before Valentine's Day she hand-made her valentine in art class along
with other students. The assignment was to express what love meant to each
of them. Jennifer was a Christian, and she put this message on her card:
'Jesus is what love is all about.' She was told by her teacher that the
religious message would have to be taken off, and that this kind of
message was illegal in the public schools." This incident clearly violated Jennifer's civil rights under the "free exercise" clause of the
First Amendment of the U.S. constitution.
That clause involves religion; it states:
"Congress shall make no law... prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."
The matter was cleared up quickly after Parshall sent a legal opinion
letter to the school principal and the school board. "Jennifer [was]
allowed to display her valentine with those of her class- mates." 1 This
type of conflict over religious free speech occurs each year in the U.S.
-- often at Valentine's Day, Easter and Christmas. Many school officials
still believe that public schools should be religion-free zones because of
the principle of separation of church and state.
They don't seem to be aware that the free exercise clause applies to
persons of all ages. Students don't lose their civil rights when they
enter a public school campus. Fortunately, these conflicts are easy to
resolve. A letter of phone call from a lawyer will usually fix the
1998-FEB-12: Same-sex marriage: Gays, lesbians and
their supporters celebrated the first "National Freedom to Marry Day."
The organizers called for an end to discrimination in civil marriage. The
day was "held in support of the struggle to allow
same-sex couples access to civil marriage.
Gatherings in large and small communities, with symbolic weddings, city
hall ceremonies, and other events" were held. 2
Evan Wolfson, marriage project director for the Lambda
Legal Defense and Education Fund said: "Valentine's Day and
Lincoln's Birthday provide the perfect themes for this day -- love and
equality. The choice of whom to marry belongs to couples in love, not to
politicians or pressure groups." 2
The observance has been repeated annually just before St.
Valentine's day, since 1998. There is a religious conflict over "National
Freedom to Marry Day." Organized opposition to equal rights for
lesbians and gays in North America -- including same-sex marriage -- comes
mainly from conservative Christians.
1998-FEB-4: Valentine's day banned in Hillsborough NJ
schools: The public schools in Hillsborough banned the distribution of
valentines. They reasoned that Valentine's Day is named after St.
Valentine and is therefore too religious. Ted Forstmann of the Becket Fund
said: "if you are a nine-year-old boy in Hillsborough, you can still
have a crush on a nine-year-old girl. You just can't give her a valentine.
Instead, you have to give her something called a 'special person card,'
because in Hillsborough, February 14 is now 'Special Person Day'."
Things may have since returned to normal. The school board seems to be softening
a bit on their anti-Valentine stance. Their Auten Road school
Valentine's Day in its calendar, and the Sunnymead Elementary School
actually holds Valentine's Day parties. Perhaps there is hope. 3
2000-FEB-14: Coalition asks that emergency
contraception be sold over the counter: On Valentine's Day, a
coalition of 76 organizations petitioned the Food and Drug
Administration to permit morning-after pills to be sold over the
counter in pharmacies and other stores. Emergency contraception,
inaccurately called morning-after pills, act as a contraceptive by either preventing ovulation, or inhibiting conception. Researchers once believed that it could inhibit implantation of the fertilized ovum, but this has been shown to be very remote or impossible function. The pills prevent pregnancy,
if taken within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse. If pregnancy has all
ready begun, they have no effect.
Also on Valentine's Day, the OB-GYN professional society issued its own
statement supporting such access. Bonnie Scott Jones, spokesperson for the
Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, said: "Because emergency
contraception poses no known health risks, has minor side effects, and can
be taken in two simple, identical doses without medical supervision, it
meets all the criteria necessary for over-the-counter status."
4 The religious connection in this case is due to the opposition
of conservative religious groups to abortion and sometimes to
contraception. Many define pregnancy as starting at conception. Thus they
believe that emergency contraception can be an abortifacient. They
generally oppose making morning-after pills more accessible to women.
2001-FEB-12: Right-wing Indian political group ordered
to disrupt Valentine's Day: Bal Thackeray, who heads the hard line Shiv
Sena political party, ordered activists in his party to disrupt Valentine
Day celebrations in Bombay. He considers the celebration to be a
conspiracy by foreign companies to sell their products in India. Writing
in his party paper, Samna, he stated: "This shameless festival has been
celebrated by our young people for the last 10 years, but it is totally
contrary to Indian culture. We should focus on good work, good thoughts,
love and harmony in our society, and not let such Western culture spoil
2001-FEB-14: Riots in India: Some
Fundamentalist Hindus rioted on Valentine's Day. "Hard-line Hindus,
bent on stopping love-struck couples from celebrating Valentine's Day,
went on a rampage...in many parts of the country, invading gift shops,
burning cards and disrupting festivities." They denounced the holiday
as a desecration of the country's traditional culture. 6
"Members of the Shiv Sena party raged through restaurants and
stores, smashing plants, tossing chairs, and threatening couples. 'Down
with Valentine's Day!' shouted activists. 'We will not allow our
culture to be polluted. Long live Hindu culture!' " 7
||2001-FEB-16: Police raids in Malaysia: Religious police from
the Mawar Merah (a faith-based police enforcement group controlled by the
government's Islamic Affairs Department) carried out raids
throughout the country on Valentine's Day. 208 couples were arrested. Most
of the charges were laid under Malaysia's 1995 Crime Enactment Code.
It prohibits "khalwat" -- a situation in which persons other than spouses or blood relations in "any
secluded place which may give rise to the suspicion that they are engaged
in an immoral act." Sixty couples who were found kissing or cuddling
were ordered to go for counseling. Their offenses were not judged to be as
severe as those of the remaining couples. 8
- "Committee on the Judiciary: Testimony of Attorney Craig L.
Parshall. Subcommittee on the Constitution. U.S. House of Representatives,
- "Non-Gay and Gay Groups Across Country Observe First National
Freedom to Marry Day: 'From Anchorage to Atlanta,' lesbians, gay men, &
allies celebrate growing support for equal civil marriage rights on
February 12," Lambda Defense and Education Fund, at:
- "Becket Fund Events," at:
- Dave Gilden, "The Fight to Make Morning-After Pills Available Over
the Counter; No Rx Required," The Village Voice, at:
- "Militant Hindu Valentine threat," BBC News, at:
- Article in the Toronto Star, a newspaper in Toronto ON Canada,
- "Weblog: Militant Hindus Rampage Against
Valentine's Day," Christianity Today, at:
- "Stupid Religious Rules," T. Rex's Guide to Life, at:
Copyright © 2000 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on
Originally written: 2000-JAN-25
Latest update: 2010-JUN-23
Author: B.A. Robinson