This column by ACRU Senior Fellow Robert Knight was published November 28, 2011 in The Washington Times.
Atheists must be the most fragile peaches in the basket. They’re always getting bruised by the slightest exposure to public displays that remind them of Christmas, God, the Ten Commandments or, worst of all, Jesus.
Just as pathetic are the atheist enablers who are complicit in doing away with any reminders of America’s Christian heritage, even secular symbols. For example, the Hollings Cancer Center in Charleston, S.C., recently decided that a visit by Santa Claus might upset nonbelievers. Perhaps they feared it could lead to heart attacks or perhaps even inspire local militant imams to issue a ruling that may include a fatwa . You can never be sure what kind of chaos a visit by Santa could unleash.
After the public rebelled, the center said Santa can squeeze down its chimney, but we’ll have none of that overtly religious stuff such as creches, angels, Christmas greetings – anything that brings joy to the world.
On Nov. 18, the Christian legal group Liberty Counsel sent a letter reminding center director Andrew S. Kraft about how freedom of religion works in America under the Constitution and how his actions constitute viewpoint discrimination. Let’s hope Dr. Kraft will grow a big heart like the Grinch did in Whoville.
The secular virus has been spreading for years in public and private zones. Shopping malls, which would go broke without Christmas, try their best to attract Christmas shoppers without mentioning Christmas. Hence, we get generic “happy holidays” and color schemes with blue and silver snowflakes cold enough to freeze the socks off Grandfather Frost. He’s the former Soviet Union’s made-up patron saint, who took over giving gifts to children after the commissars bumped off St. Nicholas. It’s rumored (I’m just starting it now) that the Christmas-phobic American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) tacks up portraits of Grandfather Frost in back offices for inspiration during that darned holiday season that Dare Not Tell Its Name.
Driving the whole mess is the growing fear Not to Offend. The war on Christmas, part of the ongoing trend to eradicate anything Christian in the public square, is also driven by a profound misreading of the First Amendment, which says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
To the ACLU and other pro-atheist groups, that means the government must be hostile to anything that offends atheists. That makes atheism the de facto official religion, something the founders went out of their way to prevent.
Genuine conflicts do arise, and the courts have found ways to keep religiously themed items legal on public property – as long as they fulfill a secular purpose. In 1984, the Supreme Court in Lynch v. Donnelly ruled that the presence of a creche amid other seasonal displays – a Santa Claus house, a Christmas tree and a “Seasons Greetings” banner – erected by the city of Pawtucket, R.I., was not an unconstitutional establishment of religion.
The secular purpose? Government was acknowledging the cultural significance of a traditional holiday celebrated by the vast majority of Americans. In what became the “reindeer test,” the court said that religious elements are OK if secular elements are present. So if you dust off a Bambi, put a red nose on it and place it next to the baby Jesus, all is right with the world. Previous generations didn’t need this kind of “cover,” but we’re in a different place now.
The court also noted, “The Constitution does not require complete separation of church and state; it affirmatively mandates accommodation, not merely tolerance, of all religions, and forbids hostility toward any.”
In early November, the Supreme Court declined to hear a case involving roadside cross memorials to fallen Utah state troopers. The American Civil Rights Union filed an amicus brief arguing for a new constitutional standard. The “coercion test” would evaluate whether a policy, practice or action involves coercion in regard to religion. The framers meant to prohibit coercion, but they did not intend to prohibit voluntary, public religious speech or religious expression or symbolism, which do not involve coercion. This test might have helped the state-supported cancer-center folks see that barring Santa was a silly idea.
In Allegheny County v. Greater Pittsburgh ACLU (1989), the court clarified the holiday standard by forbidding stand-alone nativities but not Christmas trees or menorahs. So the National Christmas Tree is safe – for now. Wonder if the “Ban Christmas” crowd knows that a decorated fir is not really a Christmas tree unless crowned with a star or an angel? Hillary Rodham Clinton’s National Christmas Tree had a sparkling purple planet atop it one year. Make of that what you will.
Please don’t tell the ACLU about the stars and angels, though. Grim-faced volunteers will be fanning out with ladders to grab them and fling them into the nearest dumpster to save us from the “reason for the season.”
Last year, atheists in Loudoun County, Va., upped the price of having a creche at the county courthouse by erecting signs with diatribes against Christianity and belief in God. When you see that stuff, keep in mind that the devil can’t create anything. He can only pervert what is good. And he’s especially adept at enlisting atheists for his schemes because, as Psalms 14 and 53 say, “the fool has said in his heart that there is no God.”
Fortunately, because we’re all prone to foolishness of one kind or another, that same God loves us anyway and gave us the ultimate gift, which is why we celebrate Christmas.