GOP Attacks Christmas Strawman

by Jesse Galef -

A bill sponsored by 19 House Republicans (including six from South Carolina, never a good sign,) wants to reaffirm that people can celebrate Christmas and mention God. I’m guessing this is in response to a gross misunderstanding of current legal concerns over displays that are government-sponsored or on government property. Via one of my longtime favorite bloggers, Steve Benen at WashingtonMonthly, I apologize in advance for the text of H. RES. 951:


Rep. Henry Brown (R-SC), sponsor

RESOLUTION
Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected for use by those who celebrate Christmas.

Whereas Christmas is a national holiday celebrated on December 25; and

Whereas the Framers intended that the First Amendment of the Constitution, in prohibiting the establishment of religion, would not prohibit any mention of religion or reference to God in civic dialog: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives–

(1) recognizes the importance of the symbols and traditions of Christmas;

(2) strongly disapproves of attempts to ban references to Christmas; and

(3) expresses support for the use of these symbols and traditions by those who celebrate Christmas.

I’m momentarily stunned – so many points to address I don’t even know where to begin.

This is why it’s troublesome for a secular and religious concept to have the same name. When government talks about “marriage” – the legal, civil status it has authority to grant – many hear “marriage” – the religious union they believe receives the blessing of God.

I never know whether people are talking about “Christmas” – the secular celebration of the spirit of giving (and commercialism) in which people display evergreen trees, pretty lights, and do the whole Presents/Santa thing – and “Christmas” – the celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth in which people put up nativity scenes and go to church.

Government can support the former but not the latter, and this bill seems to be conflating the two. By explicitly mentioning the use of “God,” the congressmen make it clear that when they say “symbols and traditions” they refer to religious symbols and traditions. Our secular government simply does not have the authority to promote the use of religious symbols and traditions.

They’re pulling a fast one – they’re attacking non-existent strawmen, but using it to promote their religion. There has been recent uproar over cities refusing to support overtly religious governmental displays. These 19 congressmen pretend they’re addressing these controversies – but they’re not. The issue in question has never been “references to Christmas” or the right of individuals to use any symbol and tradition they want. It has always been a question of inappropriate, unconstitutional governmental support for religion.

I don’t know whether this bill will make it out of committee – most bills don’t – but if it goes up for a vote, I have a hard time seeing it fail. No congressman wants to go on record against Christmas.

About Dr. Denise Cooper-Clarke

I am a graduate of medicine and theology with a Ph.D in medical ethics. I tutor in medical ethics at the University of Melbourne, am an (occasional) adjunct Lecturer in Ethics at Ridley Melbourne, and a voluntary researcher with Ethos. I am also a Fellow of ISCAST and a past chair of the Melbourne Chapter of Christians for Biblical Equality. I have special interests in professional ethics, sexual ethics and the ethics of virtue.

  • JulietEcho

    Ugh. It’s clever and stupid at the same time – and yes, taking advantage of the overlapping meanings of “Christmas” in America. *sigh*

  • Casimir

    I, for one, laud Congress’s efforts to protect us from the Grinch.

  • Hey You

    Isn’t there something important they could be spending their time on…?!

  • Sackbut

    (1) recognizes the importance of the symbols and traditions of Christmas;

    Meaningless statement. No actions are associated with recognizing something as important.

    (2) strongly disapproves of attempts to ban references to Christmas;

    I know of no attempts to ban references to Christmas. I do know of some businesses that choose to issue catalogs or distribute advertisements that have a more inclusive message at this time of year, or that ask or require their employees to use more inclusive greetings, but in no way can I possibly interpret these actions as attempts to ban references to Christmas. Similarly, I know of schools that choose not to sing religious songs or have religious parties, and government offices that choose not to have religious symbols displayed, but again, I cannot see these as attempts to ban references to Christmas. All of these are attempts to be inclusive (or less exclusive) or to facilitate constitutionally required separation of church and state. People are always free to make references to Christmas in the private lives and on their private property.

    (3) expresses support for the use of these symbols and traditions by those who celebrate Christmas.

    See above. To the extent these people are not violating the constitution or their company policies, great, but that’s no different from current law. If the resolution is to encourage people to violate the law or violate company policies, I think the resolution is over-reaching. Even worse, if the resolution is attempting to dictate company policies and school policies and government policies, saying they can’t be inclusive, they can’t follow the dictates of their own conscience and, where applicable, the dictates of the constitutionally required separation of church and state, then the resolution is an an affront and illegal.

  • JD

    Isn’t a resolution just an empty statement? I do think point 1 is innocuous. The idea behind point 2 hasn’t actually been actually happening. I don’t think congress critters should be using their position to take sides in religious matters.

  • CybrgnX

    Contact your congressmen and tell them to support the bill because it is about time they recognized Mithra’s-Dae, or the Saturnalia, or the winter solstice as its about time they recognized the true pagan nature of the holiday.

  • Trace

    Blagh. Not that different from most English-only initiatives.

  • ckitching

    What’s next? A resolution stating that puppies are cute, and kittens are cuddly?

  • Martin

    @Sackbut articulated it well. This is a meaningless bill that doesn’t do anything. It’s only designed to score political points with the religious right and Bill O’Reilly.

    There’s nothing in this bill that would allow any government agency to display nativity scenes on the courthouse lawn.

    Really, this is nothing to get your hackles up about, because it has no real legal ramifications. It only furthers this asinine “controversy” over whether people should be saying “Happy Holidays” vs. “Merry Christmas.”

  • Stephanie

    I have to agree with Martin and add that politicians will use anything to promote themselves and their public personae…including sacred holidays (sacred for the believers, I mean). Just business as usual with some greenery and tinsel added.

  • Baconsbud

    I have asked this question before at other blogs and never really gotten a good answer. Which of the many traditions of Christmas are actually christian based? What I have learned about Christmas, most of the traditions are based on the pagan beliefs that were being stooped out by christianity.

  • http://riotingmind.blogspot.com BeamStalk

    Baconsbud, the name Christmas, it is taken from Christ’s mass, and the nativity scene. That is all I can think of.

  • ckitching

    Really, this is nothing to get your hackles up about, because it has no real legal ramifications.

    I disagree. It’s a blatant waste of resources by people who claim to be fiscally responsible. Instead of trying to find real solutions for the people they represent, they’re using taxpayer funds to pander to them (it may not be much, but it does show where their true loyalties lie).

    For all the effort people go through to criticize atheist organizations and individuals who challenge minor religious icons, this should be a much larger affront. This thing is superfluous, and has no teeth, and is therefore a complete waste of time.

  • Luther

    the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected for use by those who celebrate Christmas.

    A strict interpretation of this would preempt others from using and decorating trees – taking the solstice symbol away. Perhaps some of the bus adds using the red and white hats could be construed as christian symbols.

    On the other hand they can completely keep “Greed”, one of the most enduring symbols of Christmas.

    Perhaps we could support a suit, if Santa is spotted with any symbol of Christmas.

  • Martin
    Really, this is nothing to get your hackles up about, because it has no real legal ramifications.

    I disagree. It’s a blatant waste of resources by people who claim to be fiscally responsible. Instead of trying to find real solutions for the people they represent, they’re using taxpayer funds to pander to them (it may not be much, but it does show where their true loyalties lie).

    Absolutely. I was simply saying that this is nothing to worry about legally. It’s unbelievable (kind of) that politicians would waste time on stuff like this with all the other problems we’re facing these days. By all means, complain to your congressmen about such a waste of time and resources.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    I the Coca Cola Corporation putting pressure on the GOP? Coke have invested a lot of money in selling Santa and associating their product with the red suited fat guy. I can see why they’d want it protected.

    Personally I am more impressed by Rep Henry Brown’s amazing hair than by the bill. Santa would be proud to have hair like that. My doesn’t Brown grow a full beard to go with it? Surely I’m not the only one to see the resemblance? Heavy set elderly fellow, white hair, smiley face, ruddy complexion, red clothing. Has anyone heard him laugh? Ho ho ho.

  • muggle

    expresses support for the use of these symbols and traditions by those who celebrate Christmas

    So how much time will I get for that 6 foot tree in my small apartment? Since I’m neither Christian nor Pagan.

    Hover Frog, then he must be Santa’s evil twin. Somehow, I don’t think the jolly old elf would approve. Someone’s moving to the naughty list being so divisive at Christmas time.

    Though, lol, that brings to mind yet another cute grandkid story (I’ve only been a grandmother for six years and I’ve got a million of them, folks, you are warned, feel free to skip if you’re getting nauseated) where I work, when I started the job, the security guard at the post outside my office was the spitting image of Santa, beard and all albeit a thinner, shorter beard and shorter hair (he was a security guard, they have regulations). I brought my grandson in for take your kid to work day a couple years ago when he was four. He whispered to me in my office after I introduced them, he looks like Santa.

    Well, Don was also rather jolly like Santa and we were good friends so I got him to play along at being Santa’s cousin (even though he swore he never impersonated Santa because the one time he did he wound up married; they still are, btw, over 20 years later) and we showed the grandson the security cameras and told him, “That’s how Santa does it, how he sees you when you’re naughty, how he knows if you’ve been bad or good, asleep or awake.” Grandson was duly impressed.

    Oh, “God”, I’m gonna burn in “hell”.

    Don had to retire due to complications from diabetes unfortunately so the game is up on the security cameras but grandson’s off to see Santa at the mall just as eagerly. I think he’s a bit Agnostic about Santa but still clinging to the “faith” this year, not being brave enough to ask obvious questions. Better enjoy it while he still has a half-way belief. He’s getting his Barricade and Raggedy Ann and a Nintendo DS (and the family Mom works for is giving her games they no longer want), that’ll clinch his “faith” this year.

    Santa is the best lesson in freethought a kid ever got. Guess I’ll do jail time for that one too. ;)

  • Donalbain

    Whereas
    Puppies are lovely

    Whereas
    Fluffy bunnies are cute

    Let it be resolved that the US House or Representatives have nothing better to do with their times than this nonsense.

  • Carol

    Whereas: Puppies are lovely

    Whereas: Fluffy bunnies are cute

    Let it be resolved that the US House or Representatives have nothing better to do with their times than this nonsense.

    Amen to that! ;-)

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Jesse Galef

    @ Donalbain –

    Whereas
    Puppies are lovely

    Whereas
    Fluffy bunnies are cute

    Let it be resolved that the US House or Representatives have nothing better to do with their times than this nonsense.

    So say we all.

  • Dhes of Yuggoth

    Well, legislation is, by nature, far more than just a “mention in civic dialog,” but even if one ignores the flagrant and glaring First Amendment issues in this little slice of (let’s be frank) dogma, the phrase “unconstitutionally vague” comes to mind, as well (not that I’m actually a lawyer or anything). What exactly ARE the “symbols of Christmas”? Seems to be that most of the candidates for this set of symbols rather vary depending on who you talk to, can be either very wide or very narrow, and few are actually exclusively either Christmas-oriented or exclusively Christian. The only ones I can think of off-hand that fit into this with a Christian exclusivity of meaning is a nativity scene.

    Personally, I think this thing raises about a zillion questions, and doesn’t really answer any. It’s almost like a particularly petulant legislative form of, “It’s MY toy — YOU can’t play with it!”


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