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No – Religious holiday displays are not inappropriate

Posted on 06 December 2006 by Josiah Garetson

We have all heard the hyperbolic claims of how there is a war on Christmas and the very fabric of our moral Judeo-Christian society is in danger of capitulating to the whims of activist judges and the militaristic liberals. Yet are such claims grounded in reality? Is it a good idea for our government to support a one-religion Christmas monopoly over less controversial “holiday” displays? Conservative evangelicals and the right-wing mainstream media would have you believe just that. But this is not the case.
This war has been waged in the chambers of our judicial system for awhile. The question is whether explicitly religious Christmas nativities, trees or displays should be allowed in the public sphere. The pro-Christmas side forces us to interpret the First Amendment of “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” to promote exclusively Christmas displays in the public sphere.

What the Constitution actually means, however, has been clarified by years of conflicting court rulings. The precedent that has emerged is that a public display must incorporate some “cultural and ethnic” significance, and that religion cannot be endorsed by the inclusion of uniquely religious symbolism.

Court cases are only part of a larger cultural debate on the legality and appropriateness of exclusively “Christmas” displays. It seems the pro-Christmas attitude forces a crisis that doesn’t necessarily exist, however. Last year, Bill O’Reilly declared his support of Christmas and began railing against so-called anti-Christmas forces, varying from Target stores to the Democratic Party, whom he accused of pandering to anti-Christian liberals.

The fact is that this “war against Christmas” is a fallacy invented by religious groups to impose a uniform religion on those who prefer not to celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or any other holiday. Those who prefer Christmas to not be endorsed in the public sphere should not be discriminated against. Removing public Christmas displays is not censorship, but rather sensitivity.

We are not advocating for an end for Christmas, nor censorship. Court rulings have repeatedly upheld the Christmas tree as an appropriate symbol of seasonal and historical significance. In that spirit, Milwaukee just put up the 2006 city “holiday tree” downtown, for all to come visit, observe and honor. It is a celebration of light and is secular enough that we can all get along. It is a step in the right direction, I’d say.

The so-called war on Christmas and its implications arouse angered cries on both sides of the issue, but everyone has overblown the rhetoric. It is true that some 90 percent of America celebrates the Christian holiday, that 80 percent of America is Christian and that some pro-Christmas voices cringe at the words “happy holidays.” But in a constitutional democracy, a majority does not have the right to impose its position. It is not necessary to alienate the minority of those who do not celebrate Christmas to enjoy your “holiday” season.

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