It’s Christmas Eve, and I thought you might appreciate an update on the “war on Christmas.”
To be honest, things have been kind of quiet this year – too quiet. It seems to me that not a creature is stirring – not even a mouse!
Sure, we had that business in Florida with the Satanic Temple. As you might recall, the rotunda of the State Capitol played host to a privately sponsored nativity scene and other religious messages (including a depiction of the Flying Spaghetti Monster), so Americans United helped the Satanic Temple win a spot for its display too.
Just to be clear: AU simply sought equal access for the Temple. No one tried to remove the crèche. We argued that if the state government was going to allow a nativity scene, a menorah and other religious symbols, it could not play favorites. Other religions have rights too.
I tried to make this point in a column for the American Constitution Society: You want 1,000 flowers to bloom? Then let ‘em bloom! The problem is, the Religious Right doesn’t really want those 1,000 flowers out there blooming. The leaders of that movement want their religious symbols to monopolize public space to the exclusion of all others.
Sorry, it doesn’t work that way in America. Free speech for one religious group means free speech for them all. Demanding – and receiving – access to public space for a variety of religious and secular symbols in December is hardly a “war on Christmas.” I’d say it’s more like a love-in – the more the merrier!
Right-wing columnist Joseph Farah doesn’t see it that way. On WorldNetDaily he accuses Americans United of trying to ruin everyone’s fun and writes, “But, of course, the attacks are not really directed at Christmas, at all. Christmas is only a target of the secular jihadists of the American Civil Liberties Union and their co-conspirators at Americans United For Separation of Church and State; their ultimate goal is destroying what Christmas represents.”
He adds, “They remind me of the terrorists in the Middle East who say they want a state of their own, but what they really want is to destroy another state. Since they haven’t been able to achieve their goal in an all-out assault, they settle for getting there piece by piece.”
So, by working to ensure free speech and equal access to public spaces for everyone, Americans United is the same as ISIS? Hey, Joe, someone slipped something silly into your eggnog!
Just so there is no confusion: If you love Christmas and all of its religious trimmings, then have at it. Deck your halls with boughs of Jesus and arrive early at midnight mass to get a good seat. Sing religious carols, read the Bible and pray all you want.
But don’t expect the government to endorse these things or help you do them. That’s not what the government is for, and you would be foolish to look to that institution to buttress faith.
Do you want to see some really cool nativity scenes? I can point you to plenty of churches that have them. Do you want your child to take part in a religious pageant where he can dress up as one of the wise men? Church has got you covered, but a public school can’t do that. Do you love religious holiday songs? City Hall is probably not the place to go. But again, I think a church could set you up.
Memo to Farah and his pals in the “Christmas Police”: You yearn to tell everyone else how they should celebrate, but you’re looking for your savior in all of the wrong places.
The Gospel of Luke recounts the appearance of angels before some startled shepherds. The angels, bringing news of Christ’s birth, proclaimed, “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Note that they didn’t tell anyone to hustle on down to the statehouse.
True Christians carry Christ in their hearts. To them, Christ is present wherever they are present. But true Christians also know that no one is brought to a deeper understanding of faith through force, compulsion or oppression.
There is no “war on Christmas.” There is merely a strong desire for all of us to make our own decisions about faith – where and how to worship (and whether to worship at all). There is an insistence that the meaning of Dec. 25 should be determined by each individual as guided by the inviolable right of conscience. There is a demand that the government not interfere in that relationship by deciding it knows which religion is best for us and how we ought to mark that day – if we mark it at all.
So, Merry Christmas, Joseph Farah. To everyone else, I say, “If the day is meaningful for you, then have at it in this free country where all faiths are welcome – but none is exalted over others by official government action.”
When the Framers severed the tie between church and state, they gave us the gift of complete freedom of conscience. It’s the best present of all. Don’t be afraid to use it.