Renewed Attacks On Christmas?

FORECASTS & TRENDS E-LETTER
By Gary D. Halbert
December 23, 2008

IN THIS ISSUE:

1.  Is There Really A War On Christmas?

2.  Religious Practice Vs. Religious Symbolism

3.  Does The PC Crowd Have Ulterior Motives?

4.  Public Religious Displays Are Possible

5.  Parting Thought On Christmas

Introduction

By now, you have probably already heard of the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) that got permission to exhibit a “Winter Solstice” sign of their own alongside a nativity scene displayed at the Washington State Capitol.  The FFRF is the nation’s largest membership group of atheists and agnostics.  Here’s what their sign said:

“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.”

As you can imagine, religious groups in Washington State and elsewhere in the US have reacted strongly to the presence of the sign, its proximity to a nativity scene and some of the inferences made in its text.  The group has also placed similar signs in various other locations, including the Illinois State Capitol.  All Illinois needs right now is a little more controversy.

This makes me think back to 2005, when the “War On Christmas” was on everyone’s mind, and even a major topic in the mainstream news media.  As a father who has always stressed the real meaning of Christmas to my children, I decided to research this issue at that time, and I published my findings in an E-Letter.  In a nutshell, I found that there was, indeed, an organized attack on Christmas, but it was not as bad as some in the media were leading us to believe. 

Now that organized resistance to the public display of nativity scenes and other religious Christmas symbolism is back in the news, I thought it might be interesting this week to revisit that 2005 E-Letter about the War on Christmas.  While I have updated some of the information since the 2005 issue, much of my original article is still accurate today.  I’ll also attempt to determine if this current assault by Wisconsin atheists amounts to an escalation of the battle, or just another attempt by someone seeking their “15 minutes of fame.”

Is There A War On Christmas?

To start with, a little clarification is necessary.  First, I can find no evidence of an actual “war” on celebrating a holiday on December 25th, or the idea of going out and spending lots of money for gifts that you may just happen to give someone on or about that date.  Can you imagine what would happen to our consumer-based economy if there was no Christmas?  While gift giving may be less extravagant this year, it’s more likely to be due to a poor economy than to any organized effort to combat Christmas.

Instead, the supposed “war” on Christmas seems to be whether or not the term “Christ” should be included in any mention of an activity or event celebrating this time of year, or whether any public (read: governmental) facility should display the word “Christmas” or any other religious symbolism surrounding the meaning of this religious holiday. 

So, why don’t we just call it what it is.  It’s not a war on Christmas – it’s a war on Christianity in general.  That is, in fact, what the “war” on Christmas is all about. 

You need look no further than the text of the FFRF winter solstice sign to see evidence of the true target of the attack.  Not content to simply note that there is an alternative to the religious celebration of Christmas, it goes on the attack denying the existence of God, calling religion myth and superstition, and then blaming religion for hardening hearts and enslaving minds.

I don’t know about you, but the last time I saw a nativity scene on public property, there was no “believe this way or go to Hell” message being conveyed.  It was simply one of a number of religious and secular displays meant to celebrate the season.  The winter solstice sign posted by FFRF does just the opposite – it’s a mean-spirited attack on religion and also belittles all those who believe and depend upon a higher power.  Some religious leaders have even likened it to “hate speech.”

Of course, that’s not how the atheist group sees it.  Dan Barker, a former evangelical preacher and co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, tried playing the victim, saying “If there can be a Nativity scene saying that we are all going to hell if we don’t bow down to Jesus, we should be at the table to share our views.”  Of course, there was no such message on the Nativity scene, but FFRF saw enough justification to mount an attack of their own.

Some of you reading this E-Letter may think that this is just another example of conservatives wringing their hands over perceived persecution that doesn’t really exist.  That is far from the case.  If you go to Google and type in “War on Christmas,” you will get over 300,000 matches for articles, books, and weblogs discussing the topic. 

Back in 2005, a group called Beyond Belief Media, led by former Christian, Brian Flemming, announced in a press release that they were formally declaring a “War on Christmas.”  A press release announcing the “war” claimed that “No Christmas pageant or Nativity display is safe from our troops” and that “We will undercut the idea that there is any point at all to celebrating the ‘birth’ of a character in a fairy tale.”

Not content with just declaring a war on Christmas, Flemming and his cohorts also declared a “preemptive strike” on Easter in April of 2006. Other than making the news at the time, the supposed wars on Christmas and Easter didn’t seem to affect celebrations very much.  Since then, Flemming and Beyond Belief Media have pretty much faded from view.  Flemming’s weblog indicates that he is enjoying a “vacation from the Internet” and that he has nothing to blog about.  It sounds like he got his 15 minutes of fame and has now settled back into obscurity.

The ACLU, often a target of criticism from the religious right, continues to maintain on their website (www.aclu.org) that they are not involved in a war on Christmas.  In fact, they say that they are the victim of a “…well-organized attempt by extremist groups to demonize the ACLU…”  It might be more accurate to say that the ACLU has a war on the allegation that they are leading a war on Christmas.

The ACLU website notes that the organization has no problem with people celebrating Christmas in ways they deem appropriate.  One article states it this way:

“…the constitutional right of people to worship, preach, sing carols, and celebrate Christmas in their churches and with their families and friends — whether in public or in private — is well-protected. The ACLU itself has brought several cases on behalf of people who want to celebrate Christmas. When the smoke of battle clears, Christmas is completely safe. The real question is not whether people can celebrate Christmas (they most certainly can), but whether the government should be promoting religious beliefs and practices (it most certainly shouldn't).”

Further research shows that the ACLU has, indeed, represented individuals in lawsuits that sought to protect their individual religious freedom.  However, it is equally important to note that the ACLU has also participated in many other lawsuits aimed at expunging religion from public life.  As hinted in the quote above, the suits against religion are typically those that seek to stop governmental entities from endorsing any particular religion.

The ACLU is often joined by another group called Americans United for Separation of Church and State, or AU for short.  This group is also on the forefront of the movement to eliminate all religious symbolism from public places.  Their latest success story is a suit brought against the state of South Carolina that blocked the issuance of a “Christian” license plate that allowed individuals the option to show their religious affiliation on their cars’ license plates.

Note that this license plate issue did not require anyone to have these plates on their cars, only those who chose to do so would have the plates and they would be displayed on privately owned vehicles.  The only governmental involvement was the printing of the plates.  Even so, the court ruled against the state.  What’s next, a prohibition against Christian bumper stickers because vehicles must be registered with a governmental entity?

Religious Practice Versus Religious Symbolism

As we all know, the US Constitution makes no mention of our modern interpretation of the separation of church and state.  The First Amendment simply forbids Congress from enacting laws that restrict the free practice of religion.  Thus, since Congress can’t regulate religion, the judiciary seems to have taken up the challenge.  Federal judges are appointed for life and do not have to answer to voters.  We all know the term “legislating from the bench,” and nowhere is this more evident than in court cases involving the practice of religion.

It is interesting to me, however, that many of the recent challenges focus on what can only be deemed symbols of religion – the Ten Commandments, “Christ” in the word “Christmas,” religious pictures and displays, as opposed to the overt promotion of one religion or another.  The judiciary has already fought and won the battles involving a governmental entity’s endorsement of one religion or denomination over another, and rightfully so.  It is not the job of governments or public schools to promote or endorse religious views.

However, it is a far cry from endorsing religion to allowing religious symbolism on public property.  The ACLU and other groups are now focusing on the display of religious symbolism, saying that the mere presence of such symbolism indicates that there is a de-facto endorsement of religion.  This is ridiculous.  

Some government buildings containing religious symbolism were built decades ago.  Are we supposed to believe that current government administrations use these symbols to promote one religion over another, or that voters are somehow influenced by these symbols to elect only candidates who share the religious views depicted in the symbols?  Hogwash!

Another example is the South Carolina license plate issue discussed above.  Are we to believe that someone driving down the road and noticing a Christian license plate is going to really think that the state, by simply producing the license plate, wants them to be a Christian?  The idea is so ridiculous that it becomes comical.

Likewise, it seems that the mere mention of the word “Christ” in Christmas offends those weak souls who see this as an obvious attempt to change the course of their lives by converting them to Christianity.  Obviously, this is nonsense.   It is a manufactured sense of being offended simply to drive home a political point. 

If one is offended by the word “Christ” in Christmas, then there are a myriad of other things that must offend these weak-minded individuals on a daily basis.  Would they be appalled if asked to be a god-parent?  Should their children not be required to read about Lady Godiva in school?  Will they shy away from doing business with anyone named “Gilchrist,” or “Christian,” or “Godwin,” etc., etc.?  Silly?  Yes – but no more so than some of the lawsuits being brought against government entities to enforce “religious freedom.” 

Yes, I am just kidding, but the above paragraph illustrates how silly I think this whole debate on religious symbolism is.  Plus, with many levels of government experiencing approval ratings at all-time lows, I seriously doubt whether religious leaders would even want their endorsement.  Think about it.

An Attack On The Majority

Earlier on, I stated that there seemed to be a war on Christianity.  Perhaps it may be more accurate to say that the current situation is just another in a long line of wars against the majority of Americans.  A 2008 poll conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 71% of Americans are absolutely certain that God or a “universal spirit” exists, and another 17% are fairly certain.  The same poll found that 75% of Americans pray at least weekly, with over half of respondents saying they pray daily.

A Gallup poll conducted in December of 2007 indicated that 82% of Americans identify with a Christian religion, and other polls have shown that more than nine out of ten Americans celebrate Christmas in one way or another.  Thus, religion, and Christianity in particular, are the most prevalent religious expressions in the United States. 

In America today, it is fashionable to pick on the majority, so that appears to be what is going on.  If the minority can convince the majority that those in the minority class are offended each time mention is made of the majority’s religion, then perhaps less will be said of religion, and the country will become more and more godless – just like the atheists want it.   Hmmm…it’s kind of like negative evangelism, isn’t it?

Thus, I think the PC forces formulate their tactics around not offending people rather than the real agendas at work.  You see, the religious majority often stands in the way of a number of things desired by liberal extremists.   Some say that the truth behind the anti-Christian movement is that removing religious (and hence moral) standards from public life paves the way for agendas that are traditionally opposed by religious leaders and their followers.

They may have a point.  If the public’s view of a religious viewpoint can be shaped to believe that all such adherents are extremists or “kooks,” then all sorts of evils might make their way into public life.  Legalized prostitution, euthanasia, legalized narcotics, gay marriage and all sorts of other “secular progressive” programs might be possible in a country populated by people without a moral compass.  Just look at Europe to see an example of what can happen when you remove religion from public life.

Fortunately, There Are Clear Rules To Follow

The forces attempting to paint religious displays on public property as unconstitutional sometimes run into the brick wall of established law.  From my research, it appears to be very clear that there are guidelines in regard to religious symbolism on public property which have been established over years of legal challenges.

First, religious expression on your own personal property is always protected by law.  While there may be challenges mounted by homeowners associations and the like regarding deed restrictions for outdoor displays, these are usually based on community appearance guidelines and not on an attempt to restrict religious expression.  Businesses enjoy the same freedom, though some voluntarily limit religious displays to avoid negative reactions from anti-religion zealots.

As for schools and public property, the AU and ACLU both admit that if a Christmas display has secular elements (Santa Claus, Christmas trees, reindeer, etc.), it may also have religious symbols such as a manger scene.  And this is from organizations seeking to remove religion from public places.  Note, however, that this is the pathway that the Wisconsin atheist group used to justify the obnoxious sign they erected in Washington State.

The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a legal alliance co-founded by conservative James Dobson, has been on the front lines in the defense of Christmas for years.   ADF has issued press releases in the past saying that it has hundreds of attorneys nationwide ready to combat attempts to censor Christmas in schools and on public property. 

However, the disturbing thing is that ADF’s website (www.alliancedefensefund.org) indicates that, in many cases, religious displays are prohibited without a legal challenge, and sometimes without even a single complaint.

Unfortunately, there are some public officials and school administrators who will take action against religious symbolism because they think they know the rules about such displays in public places.  They either respond to a complaint with a “knee-jerk” reaction, or they assume that religion has been outlawed in all public places, so they take actions and create controversies that are ultimately unnecessary. 

The problem with such actions is that many times they are based on assumptions, and not the real facts.  The numerous challenges to religious expression in schools and public property have resulted in an established set of guidelines that any public official or school administrator can access.  The ADF makes copies of these rules available to school districts across the US so that school administrators will be familiar with the rules should a complaint surface. 

The ADF also supplies the following brief summary of the established rules relating to Christmas celebrations in schools and on public property:

*     The US Supreme Court has never ruled that public schools must ban the singing of religious Christmas carols or prohibit the distribution of candy canes or Christmas cards.

*     School officials may refer to a school break in December as “Christmas Vacation” or as a holiday without offending the Constitution, and do not violate the Constitution by closing on religious holidays such as Christmas and Good Friday.

*     No Court has ever held that celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas as religious holidays requires recognition of all other religious holidays.

*     The “Three Reindeer Rule” used by the courts requires a municipality to place a sufficient number of secular objects in close enough proximity to the Christmas display (such as a manger scene) to render the overall display sufficiently secular.  Although the overall display must not convey a message endorsing a particular religion’s view, Christmas displays are not banned as some people believe.  Simply put, the courts ask, “Is the municipality celebrating the holiday or promoting religion?”

More resources are available from the ADF website (www.alliancedefensefund.com).  Note, however, that some of the resources available from this organization may require purchase.  You can also obtain information on Christmas displays from the American Center for Law and Justice at www.aclj.org.  I encourage you to share these important resources with your local school and government administrators, especially if they are currently dealing with a challenge from PC groups.

Conclusion:  The War On Christmas Is Limited

While the “winter solstice” sign placed by the FFRF is still in the news, it is important to realize that these instances are relatively rare, even though egged on by organizations such as the FFRF, Beyond Belief Media and others.  There are literally thousands of school districts and public places where religious symbols are not under attack, and Christmas celebrations are proceeding without a hitch. 

Just as in 2005, examples of making Christmas politically correct “represent the exception to the rule and most communities are not giving in to the pressure to be politically correct,” according to an article back then from the American Center for Law and Justice.  Good for them!

What motivates people to complain about religious symbolism varies, but I’m sure some are convinced they know the rules when they don’t; others are well-meaning individuals who do not want to offend others; and I’m sure you know that there are some people who just like to be noticed.  However, it is important to know that there are individuals and organizations that actively seek to remove every vestige of religion from American life.  Thus, even though the current attack on Christians and Christmas is limited, we must continue to be vigilant lest it become more widespread.

Parting Thought On Christmas

A few years ago, my wife and I went to New York City to take in the yearly “Rockettes Christmas Spectacular.” at Radio City Music Hall.  And it was indeed spectacular (as it should have been, given the ticket prices).  Near the end, the Rockettes left the stage, and one would have thought that the performance was over.  Yet, to our surprise, Radio City Music Hall had an ending performance featuring the Nativity Scene. 

This Nativity Scene was the whole story of Joseph and Mary and the birth of Jesus, with real actors and real sets, beginning with Joseph and Mary’s trip to Bethlehem, how they were turned away at the Inn, how they wound up in a manger, and how Jesus was born there.  Then the Wise Men came and brought their gifts.  This finale segment lasted 15-20 minutes.

We were shocked to see such a graphic and sensational presentation of the Nativity Scene in New York – liberal bastion that it is – but there it was.   Most shocking of all was the ending.  A thinly veiled curtain came down, and the following postscript was displayed for all to see:

“He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman.  He grew up in another obscure village, where He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty.  Then for three more years, He was an itinerant preacher.  He never had a home.  He never set foot inside a big city.  He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born.  He never wrote a book, or held an office.  He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness.

While he was still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against Him.  His friends deserted Him.  He was turned over to His enemies, and went through a mockery of a trial.  He was nailed to a cross between two thieves.  While He was dying, His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had – His coat.  When He was dead, He was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave.

Over two thousand years have passed, and today He is the central figure for much of the human race.  All the armies that ever marched and all the navies that ever sailed and all the parliaments that ever set and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as this ‘One Solitary Life’.”

Wow, you could have blown us over with a feather!  To see this tribute to Jesus as the ending to a Christmas extravaganza in New York, of all places, and in Radio City Music Hall (one of New York’s centerpieces), was a real shocker.  We were so moved and so happy we were there.

With that, let me wish each and every one of you a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah (or Happy Whatever you may be celebrating) and a very Happy New Year!!

Very best regards,

Gary D. Halbert


Read Gary’s blog and join the conversation at garydhalbert.com.


Forecasts & Trends E-Letter is published by ProFutures, Inc. Gary D. Halbert is the president and CEO of ProFutures, Inc. and is the editor of this publication. Information contained herein is taken from sources believed to be reliable but cannot be guaranteed as to its accuracy. Opinions and recommendations herein generally reflect the judgement of Gary D. Halbert (or another named author) and may change at any time without written notice. Market opinions contained herein are intended as general observations and are not intended as specific investment advice. Readers are urged to check with their investment counselors before making any investment decisions. This electronic newsletter does not constitute an offer of sale of any securities. Gary D. Halbert, ProFutures, Inc., and its affiliated companies, its officers, directors and/or employees may or may not have investments in markets or programs mentioned herein. Past results are not necessarily indicative of future results. Reprinting for family or friends is allowed with proper credit. However, republishing (written or electronically) in its entirety or through the use of extensive quotes is prohibited without prior written consent.

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