I was sort of hoping not to touch so much on the “On War Christmas” this year. The whole thing is patently absurd and I suppose I had a secret wish that most Christians would realize that they were being played with the standard methods of fear mongering to which they often seem to be all too susceptible. Everybody is free to celebrate Newton’s birthday as they wish, even if they get it confused with mythological figures or stories from 2000 years ago. The latest round from this one sided war comes from the Liberty Counsel which has decided to waste their time by compiling a Naughty and Nice list. This list is a feeble and pathetic attempt to divide companies into us vs. them combatants. Companies that use the word “holiday” are sorted into the “naughty” bin, and those who say “Christmas” into the “nice” bin. For example, Disney has a “Holiday Shop”, so they are “naughty” (and so Micky will presumably get coal in his stocking). ComputerGear.com mentions Christmas, so they are “nice”.
Once again, as a message to Liberty Counsel, even I, as an atheist, don’t care if you say “Merry Christmas” to me. I am not offended. Neither I nor anybody I know is out to take it away. I do think it is important to recognize and be aware of the fact that the holiday does mean different things in different traditions. Solstice days have been celebrated by human societies for years, before the advent of Christianity. There is also considerable doubt that Jesus (if he ever existed, which is extremely doubtful already) was actually born on Dec. 25. The date Dec. 25 was not chosen until the 4th century CE, and was chosen primarily because the birthdays of other pagan gods were already being celebrated on that day. They were simply incorporating existing traditions.
Whether you want to call it Christmas, Hannuka, Kwanza, Saturnalia, Bhodi day, or whatever, to me it will still be a time of festivity, Christmas trees, family gathering, and honoring whatever traditions belong to your own family. As this is also the time we arbitrarily label as the ending of the year succeeded by renewal, it is also a time for reflection.
But what is this Liberty Counsel anyway? I decided to take a quick look at their web site. They claim to be a standard bearer for protecting religious freedom. As nobody is advocating getting rid of religious freedom in this country, that immediately rouses suspicion. In their “About” section, they mention, in brief, some of the actions in which they were involved. Several of them were about banning same sex marriages and they tout their success in those efforts. I suppose this has to do with the religious liberty of enforcing their own religious views of marriage on others. Apparently they fought in Kentucky to say the the Ten Commandments were historical documents contributing to American law and thus it is constitutional to include them as such in public documentation. In fact, the Ten Commandments have nothing to do with American law as eloquently discussed here. To include them as official documents is divisive as it officially favors certain religious traditions to the exclusion of others.
There were some other cases I would actually have to agree with them on, regardless of how uncomfortable I am with them. Students do, I think, have the right to meet after school or distribute religious literature, as long as it is not disruptive to the learning process. Teachers and administrators, however, must not give any type of sanctioning or have the appearance of condoning or favoring any religious tradition. In the particular instances mentioned in their web site, I’m not sure which of the above factors may have been in play, but those are the principles with which I would view those types of cases. The “Graduation Prayer” link under “Projects” is obnoxious, but I don’t know enough about the legal aspects to say much more. Certainly for a student speaker at a graduation ceremony to invoke his or her own religious traditions is tactless and excludes, by definition, any of the student body who do not follow those traditions.