The War on Christmas that never was: How the secular humanist grinch didn’t steal Christmas
by Caleb Reading
Long article from Salon, I’ll post a few excerpts:
Despite Johnson’s lamentations, one can in fact offer Christmas greetings without legal counsel. Christmas trees are permitted in public schools. (They’re considered secular symbols.) Nativity scenes are allowed on public property, although if the government erects one, it has to be part of a larger display that also includes other, secular signs of the holiday season, or displays referring to other religions. (The operative Supreme Court precedent is 1984’s Lynch v. Donnelly, where the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that a city-sponsored Christmas display including a crèche, reindeer, a Christmas tree, candy-striped poles and a banner that read “Seasons Greetings” was permissible. “The display is sponsored by the city to celebrate the Holiday and to depict the origins of that Holiday,” the majority wrote. “These are legitimate secular purposes.”) Students are allowed to distribute religious holiday cards and literature in school. If the administration tries to stop them, the ACLU will step in to defend the students’ free-speech rights, as they did in 2003 when teenagers in Massachusetts were suspended for passing out candy canes with Christian messages.
In fact, there is no war on Christmas. What there is, rather, is a burgeoning myth of a war on Christmas, assembled out of old reactionary tropes, urban legends, exaggerated anecdotes and increasingly organized hostility to the American Civil Liberties Union. It’s a myth that can be self-fulfilling, as school board members and local politicians believe the false conservative claim that they can’t celebrate Christmas without getting sued by the ACLU and thus jettison beloved traditions, enraging citizens and perpetuating a potent culture-war meme. This in turn furthers the myth of an anti-Christmas conspiracy.
“You have a dynamic here, where you have the Christian right hysterically overrepresenting the problem, and then anecdotally you have some towns where lawyers restrict any kind of display or representation of religion, which is equally absurd,” says Chip Berlet, a senior analyst at Political Research Associates and one of the foremost experts on the religious right. “It’s a closed loop. In that dynamic, neither the secular humanists or the ACLU are playing a role.”
As Johnson notes, O’Reilly invited Sears onto his show to talk about his book, catapulting it to No. 20 on Amazon. “You can only push the American people so far, and then there’s a backlash,” Johnson says. “The ACLU in recent years has just pushed Christian America to the limit. From its earliest stage, the ACLU has deliberately chipped away at the legal and moral and religious foundations of our republic.”
The war on Christmas trope lets the right pretend to be playing defense when it’s really on the offensive — against the ACLU, separation of church and state, and pluralism, to name just a few targets. “The revolution against Christianity has been under way for a few years,” writes Gibson, “and now the counterrevolution is gearing up.”