Christmas Stories: All Too Often, Religious Right Tales Of Holiday Horror Don’t Add Up

There’s no war on Christmas. There’s just the same old fight against fundamentalist zealots who believe their crabbed, narrow and exclusionary interpretation of Christianity is the only valid one.

Earlier this week, FoxNews.com published a column by Religious Right attorney Kelly Shackelford accusing Americans United and other groups of ignoring the allegedly overwhelming evidence that there is a “war on Christmas.”

In his column, Shackelford mentioned several incidents that he insists are proof of this war. Let’s take a closer look at them, shall we?

* A nativity scene at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina was removed: Yes, it was. And it should have been. Military bases are government installations. Government facilities don’t have the right to display religious symbols at taxpayer expense. The courts have been clear about this. If the base wanted to display a crèche, it should have included symbols of other faiths and non-religious symbols as well.

* The Freedom From Religion Foundation “intimidated the state of Washington into banning all holiday decorations from the Capitol building”: I called my friend Andrew Seidel, an attorney at the FFRF, and asked him what really happened. He told me that this situation started in 2008, when a member of the group noticed that a nativity scene was being displayed inside the state capitol. He sought, and won, the right to put up his own display. It was a sign that read, “At this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

Since then, all displays (religious and non-religious) have been moved outside the building and are erected and maintained by private groups using their own funds – which is exactly how it should be.

* The FFRF “bullied an Oklahoma school into banning all religious-themed Christmas songs from its ‘December Play’”: This incident occurred in the town of Sulphur, Okla., last year. Officials at Sulphur Elementary School sponsored a Christmas play that included Christian themes and songs and that encouraged kids to pray. Students who objected to this religious content were sent to the principal’s office to do homework (something they regarded as a form of punishment). Parents objected. The principal promised to make certain that in the future, no students were ostracized or punished for not taking part.

Seidel called Shackelford’s description “a pretty gross misrepresentation.”

* “Attempts to ban Christmas observances have occurred in schools in Bulloch County, Georgia, and Frisco, Texas.”: The Bulloch County story was debunked a few days ago. It was a typical attempt by Fox News to slime a public school. The Frisco situation involved an email that was forwarded to a number of parents claiming that the school had banned the word “Christmas” and the colors red and green. The email had no connection to the school, and officials quickly issued a statement noting that the district has no such policies in place.

* “A Houston-area school banned all religious items at Christmas (and students from saying the word “Jesus” at Easter!)”: I’m sure that Shackelford, as an attorney, is familiar with the term “hearsay.” Where did this happen and when? What exactly was said? What was the policy? Who issued it? If it was so bad why wasn’t it challenged in court? In light of his wild distortions of the cases listed above, I doubt Shackelford has described this one accurately.

Americans United hears stories like this all of the time from Religious Right groups. They usually turn out to be complete fabrications or mischaracterizations of what really happened.

On Tuesday, my colleague Simon Brown wrote about a new poll showing that more and more Americans are celebrating Christmas as a secular holiday. At the same time, groups like Americans United, FFRF, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and others are insisting that the separation of church and state be respected.

Members of the Religious Right’s “Christmas Police” believe there is only one way to celebrate Christmas – their way. They want to force that theological understanding onto everyone using the power of government.

A growing number of Americans have had enough and are standing up to the Christmas Police. Among them are plenty of Christians who, unlike the Religious Right, are smart enough to realize that the place to go for a full-blown religious experience at Christmas is a house of worship, not city hall.

In short, there’s no war on Christmas. There’s just the same old fight against fundamentalist zealots who believe their crabbed, narrow and exclusionary interpretation of Christianity is the only valid one. They have taken the message of a man dedicated to peace and turned it into a hate-filled rant – and then they puzzle why so many people are repelled by it. Of course, they still insist that they have the right to hijack the power of government and shove this festering theological fruit cake down everyone else’s throat.

If that’s your gift to us, Mr. Shackelford, we’ll be taking it back.

P.S. A little advice: I know a place where you can get all of the religion you want this Christmas season. It is called “church.”