Jon Stewart (Mostly) Agrees with Atheists Regarding the ‘War on Christmas’

Last night, The Daily Show covered the War on Christmas and how the right wing attacks atheists in particular for being “intolerant bullies”:

Jon Stewart showed a clip of Dave Silverman arguing that atheists are only fighting for government to not preference one religion over another — and actually agreed (for once!) with what he said… before adding a side comment about how going after a local Nativity scene may not help meet those ends…

Stewart’s wrong about that. If we let the relatively little things slide, the Christian Right will only use those examples as justification for why they should be able to break the law on a larger scale. We need to continue going after every possible violation of church/state separation or else we’ll end up with an atheist version of the “broken windows theory.” (I talked about it more in depth here.)

You know, Stewart could always ask Dave Silverman to come on the show and explain it all to him. Considering all the clips he’s shown of the “Godless” man, he might as well bring him on to get a first-hand account of why we fight.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • V Williams

    Maybe I just hasn’t seen Silverman in the right context, but I’m wondering: would he be funny on the Daily Show?  If only Hitchens were still around.  He was great on the Daily Show…

  • ortcutt

    ” If we let the relatively little things slide, the Christian Right will
    only use those examples as justification for why they should be able to
    break the law on a larger scale.”

    Amen to that.  I don’t know how many times I have heard both of the following claims:

    1. ” ‘In God We Trust’ (or “Under God”, Ten Commandments display, Memorial Crosses, etc…) is just ceremonial deism, mere puffery, not government endorsement of religion.”

    2. “This is a Christian nation.  What part of ‘In God We Trust’ don’t you understand, atheist?”

  • enuma

    I really wish the media would stop portraying an attempt to remove a Nativity scene from government property as an attack on all Nativity scenes everywhere.  I’m all for religious displays as long as they’re on personal or church property. 

  • Ryan Jean

    “We need to continue going after every possible violation of church/state separation or else we’ll end up with an atheist version of the ‘broken windows theory.’”

    So… Broken *stained glass* windows?
    (I know, it’s bad. Feel free to groan…)

  • gingerjet

    Stewart has a point.  Going after every little nativity scene is not always helpful to the larger cause and frequently is counter productive.  

  • Jasper

    How is it counter productive? If we can establish a strong, well known, precedent that this is illegal, that helps cut down on this mentality that this is a Christian nation and they can do what they want. The nativity scenes are conceptual battle ground here. In that sense, this is extremely productive.

  • Ibis3

     Also, “We’ve been doing this for yeeaars and no one’s ever complained before.”

  • MaryD

    You guys really need to read your own constitution. It doesn’t say anything about separation of religion and state.

  • Lagerbaer


    This is why reading comprehension is so important. No, the exact phrase “separation of r. and s.” isn’t in the constitution. So what? The Bible also doesn’t contain the words abortion or gay marriage.

  • Dpsisler

    MaryD, you need to read your own constituion.  No where does it say that you are allowed to own guns and bullets.   When you understand my comment then maybe you will be able to understand your comment.

  • M J Shepherd

    Oh, you!

  • ortcutt

    Stewart is free to not care about the Establishment Clause if he doesn’t want to, but I don’t see why that should matter to those people who do want to see the Constitution enforced.

  • Sven2547

    It DOES have a little thing called the Establishment Clause.  Check it out.

  • ortcutt

    You do realize that there are thousands of pages of Supreme Court case law on the subject, right?  Perhaps, you interpret the Bible by just quoting the words from it, but that’s not how the US legal system works.  “Separation between church and state” comes from Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947), quoting a letter by Thomas Jefferson.  Supreme Court Establishment Clause jurisprudence has developed since then, but you seem completely uninterested in any of it.  Lack of basic legal knowledge like this is why religionists so often lose these cases and FFRF and other secularist groups so often win.

  • Jim Royal

    No, Jon Stewart is right, if only for tactical reasons.

    Christmas nativity scenes and other expressions of religiosity are a symptom of the problem, not the cause.

    The USA is unique in the western world both for its level of religiosity and the level of personal insecurity felt by its citizens on an ongoing basis. Those two things are interrelated. When populations feel insecure, the level of religiosity (and belief in things like conspiracy theories and other superstitions) goes up. Populations that feel secure have low levels of religiosity.

    If atheists in the USA want to have an effect on the level of religious belief in their country, they must collectively push for economic and social reforms that loosen people’s death-grips on their churches, and permit room for non-belief to flourish: single-payer health care; no more to right-to-work legislation, equal rights for gays, and so on.

    Unlike religiously-motivated bullying or religious limitations on freedom, no one is harmed by a nativity scene. Fighting against it looks cruel. Yes, it’s against the law in the USA. But while it means little or nothing to us, it’s a powerful symbol for them. Eliminating that symbol simply makes them feel even more insecure. It’s counter-productive.

    I think atheists in the USA need to pick their battles. If you can make social change happen, then things like nativity scenes will cease to be relevant.

  • SeekerLancer

    Silverman wouldn’t know what to do in a situation where he’d be allowed to talk on TV without having to scream over the other people in the room.

  • Fargofan1

    The Bible also doesn’t contain the word Trinity, yet that’s an important Christian belief. Exact terms aren’t always necessary.

  • Leftoflarry

    I believe that John Stewart would have a conflict of interest if he had Dave come on the show because right now they are in litigation over the WTC cross.  John Stewart sits on the board of the WTC memorial committee…

  • ortcutt

    1.  The courts have found that significant exposure to the nativity scene is enough to merit standing (with some other conditions) to sue to enforce the Establishment Clause.  If it’s enough harm for the courts, it’s enough harm for me.

    2.  There is no reason that nativity scenes on private property make anyone more insecure than nativity scenes on government property.  The case that got nativity scenes off government property was County of Allegheny v. ACLU.  There was a nativity scene in the City-County building that was removed when the Court ruled it was unconstitutional.  So, they built an even bigger nativity scene on private property two blocks down the street.  The new one is enormous and certainly more prominent than the one on government property.

    Catholics get their creche.  Everyone gets their Establishment Clause rights.  Everyone is happy.  What is insecure about that solution?  That’s all that anyone is asking for.

  • Silo Mowbray

    Precisely right. Allowing nativity scenes on property paid for by ALL TAXPAYERS is part of a “wedge strategy” by Christians to normalize their values in the rest of U.S. society. Once the little things are in, bigger things will be forced in as well. Theocratic fucking douchecanoes.

  • Mario Strada

    FOX “Unfair and out of whack” reporting on the War on Christmas makes it sound, even to me if I didn’t know better, that what we want is to eliminate nativity scenes from everywhere.

    Now, here is an idea for a billboard campaign. How about showing a nativity scene with City Hall on one side with a “no parking” sign over it and a church on the other with a big green checkmark?

    Simple, easily understood even by your average FOX NEWS viewer and just controversial enough to get some air time.

    Of course, for many the distinction is small, but at least it would give us a chance to make it and maybe reach those that have not finished all the Kool Aid.

  • Sfindley312

    Well answer the questions!

  • Felyx Leiter

    Hey Silo, wanted to thank you for the link to “The Authoritarians” you put up a while back.  Fascinating read.

  • Sfindley312

    I’m glad you mentioned that case, the county of allegheny v ACLU 1989 by the way. Please don’t tell me Christianity is not being bashed. Why didn’t you mention in the same case the court said a “Menorah” was not a symbol of religion. Are you f….ing kidding me. I can’t wait for you to say why a Menorah is not a symbol of religion an justify it.
     The f….ing case shouldn’t have even been heard. Lynch v. Donnelly 1984, the high court ruled a nativity scene not an endoersement of religion. Just like you leftists to have selective hearing so to speak. Your thoughts ortcutt.

  • Coyotenose

     The media portrayed criticisms of Chik-fil-A’s owner as pressure against his personal beliefs rather than what it originally was, criticism of his financially supporting groups that act to hurt homosexuals and even try to get them murdered (rather like Rwlawoffice does). That led to people in favor of gay rights crusading against his beliefs, which gave the religionists motivation to circle the wagons AND obfuscated the whole matter. The media can’t be trusted on any issue.

  • Sfindley312

    And you are right Mary, they can put whatever twist on it they want and talk till they’re blue in the face. nowhere in the constitution is the phrase “seperation of church and state” nowhere

  • Coyotenose

     I don’t know that that would be such a bad thing. Most stained glass windows are pretty damn ugly. Plus stained glass makes me think of sheets of rock candy, which is a trap designed to lure you in with sweetness and then break your teeth.

    I think there’s a metaphor in there somewhere…

  • Sfindley312

    Oh please!!! you are comparing apples and oranges!

  • Coyotenose

     I feel you’re overlooking the point that they aren’t acting out of rationality, but emotion. Take away the cause of the emotions, and they have no motivation left to keep pushing. Being technically, ethically and Constitutionally in the right doesn’t address every facet.

  • Sfindley312

    You are right ortcutt, a LETTER was quoted, not a law or amendment to a law or an amendment to an amenedment. And again in that letter T.J also said the only time government should intrude in the name of religion is? when one is “ill towards thy neighbor” read the whole back and forth corresspondences and report what it is and not what you think it is.

  • Coyotenose

    It also doesn’t guarantee the right to privacy. SURPRISE! Your ilk stupidly playing literalist games is a bad argument that has been defeated for far longer than you’ve been alive.

    Hey, aren’t you the commenter who called homosexuals “mentally disordered” and “aberrations” and advocated killing them?

    Yeah, that’s you. Enjoy being a nasty piece of shit. I’m sure Jesus is okay with your hate.

  • Silo Mowbray

    Felyx: You are most welcome. Please consider doing your part and sharing that link far and wide. Understanding the opposition is critical if we are to make a dent in their bat-shit crazy deathgrip on power.

    For those who are unaware: Dr. Altemeyer’s work on The Authoritarians.

  • Coyotenose

     Bless her heart, eh?

  • Sfindley312

    You all need to start taking your battle to D.C. you all always go after small cash strapped venues. Take it right to the man!

  • ortcutt

    I thought that Brennan, Stevens, and Marshall made the better argument in concluding that the menorah was equally unconstitutional, but I don’t make the law, a majority of justices make the law.

    If religious conservatives want creches on government property, they need to claim that they have no religious message.  Why would they want that anyway?  I would think that churches and religious people have a religious message that they want to promote.  They should do that and not expect our government to do it for them.

  • ortcutt

    Sure, but Everson is Supreme Court case law now, and the Court has repeatedly acknowledged a principle of separation of church and state.  Burger did so in Lemon v. Kurtzman when he formulated the Lemon test that still applies to Establishment Clause cases. 

  • GloomCookie613

    Ditto. Our town has two nativity scenes. One at a church and the other on a private lot in town. I couldn’t care less about them. The one at the church is even… *gasp* pretty.

  • Sfindley312

    My response to you is again why was the case even heard
    Lynch v.Donnelly 1984.

  • ortcutt

    Because 4 Justices voted to grant cert.  What other answer do you want?

  • Jim Royal

    1. “If it’s enough harm for the courts, it’s enough harm for me.” What is the nature of that harm, then? Who gets hurt?

    2. “What is insecure about that solution?” Coyotenose put his finger on it. Yours is a rational response to an an emotionally-charged situation. It doesn’t respond to people as people, rather as legal entities. For these people, the specific placement of the creche on public property is a representation of community. The reason that people are not happy with having these creches on private property only is that it undermines their sense of community.

    I’m not saying that these people are right — only that this is how they are thinking. Removing nativity scenes is perceived as an attack on the very idea of a shared space. And given that the presence of the creches doesn’t actually do anyone any real harm, it’s understandable that being ordered to follow the law in this matter can seem cruel.

    There’s very little upside to challenging nativity scenes. As I said, the goal should be to wean people off their churches by making the world safer for them.

  • ortcutt

    I think you’ve gotten to the heart of the matter though.  People worry about creches on government property don’t worry about religion in the public sphere.  In Pittsburgh, the creche became more prominent on private property than it ever had on public property.  People who want religious displays on government property have a different agenda, that agenda is pushing for the entanglement of church and state.  They’re a bunch of old Fox News viewers who are angry that the world of their childhood when Christianity was the state-favored religion no longer exists.  Sorry, but I feel no need to pander to these people.  They’re all on their way out anyway.  If that makes them have a sad, then too bad.

  • Ryan Jean

    “…a LETTER was quoted, not a law or amendment to a law or an amendment to an amenedment. (sic)”

    A letter was quoted, but as as a clear and concise explanation of a concept fundamentally ROOTED in an amendment. The very first one, in fact, and one based off previous jurisprudence in Virginia and Rhode Island; perhaps you’ve heard of it. The amendment’s two facets that deal with religion, that of free exercise and establishment, are often opposite pressures between which a balance must be struck.

    The hypocritical approach taken by virtually all sizable religious groups is to attempt to secure the implications of the free exercise clause for themselves (all others be damned, so to speak) while also trying to exempt themselves from the implications of the establishment one. This approach isn’t merely unlawful; it’s also deeply immoral and, to be blunt, downright contemptible.

    When the court quoted the letter, it was a metaphor. It was relating not just the amendment itself in easier terms, but applying the logical conclusion of the legislative history of the amendment as to what the real intent of the clauses was. The result of such analysis, as the court found, is not favorable to religion. The process of deciding what text the bill of rights would actually contain resulted in quite a few different drafts of the religion clauses alone. The ones that would plainly and unambiguously have said the kinds of things that religious people like to pretend were actually meant by the founders were rather swiftly and soundly dismissed in favor of language that applied significantly more broadly. The words they finally settled upon may be slightly ambiguous when taken alone, but in the context of the proceedings that developed them, they couldn’t be more clear.

    It seems you’ve been studying the King James version of the Constitution, and likely only the Cliff’s Notes at that. Maybe it’s time you graduated to the real thing and challenged what you thought you knew…

  • Bethelj

    “The reason that people are not happy with having these creches on private property only is that it undermines their sense of community.”

    Yes, this is right.  It’s becoming clear that there no longer is any American community in a sense of generally shared values, rituals, or beliefs.  Only a vast muddle of individual interests clamoring for power and attention.

  • ortcutt

     There never were “generally shared values, rituals, or beliefs”.  There were just certain people who had the power to have their beliefs and rituals put above those of others.

  • Jim Royal

     “People who want religious displays on government property have a
    different agenda, that agenda is pushing for the entanglement of church
    and state.”

    A few, yes. But very few. Most are not even thinking of it in religious terms. Most want nativity scenes on the steps of city hall because it gives them a warm fuzzy. And in their minds, you’re standing firmly opposed to warm fuzzies. What a nice person you must seem to them.

    Again, try to see these people as people, not abstractions.

    Look, here in Montreal there are no nativity scenes on any public property — all Christmas decorations are non-denominational. And those few people who actually put them on their own property are seen as kooks because creches are tacky and in poor taste. That should be your goal.

    Yes, you should stand opposed to religious coercion that would cause you violate your own conscience or limit your freedom. But you still haven’t explained how creches harm you.

  • ortcutt

    Why am I the one who is supposed to bend over backwards to worry about the wounded feelings of religionists when they can’t take the perspective of someone like me who doesn’t want our government promoting their religion?  I don’t ask the government to promote atheism.  I’m sure there would be Christians who would be outraged if government promoted liberal Christianity over conservative Christianity.  And that’s why we have the Establishment Clause.  Maybe Canada doesn’t have an Establishment Clause but we in the US do have one.  It matters to some of us quite a bit, and when we witness a government violating that, that is harm. 

  • Ryan

    I for one couldn’t care less what the constitution says.  Separation of church and stat is the RIGHT thing to do.  I’m sick of all this founding father worship in our country.

  • Helanna

    Oh, that would be great. Seriously, listening to them, you’d think atheists were suing churches and families for having nativity scenes in the yard. It’s like they’re completely incapable of understanding that we *only* have a problem if it’s a government display.

    Really, it’s not hard to understand. But why tell the truth when you can sensationalize it and get thousands of people worked up about nothing instead?

  • Cortex_Returns

    Pretty much after he called “glitter bombers” petulant children I lost my interest in Stewart.  He doesn’t have any respect for activism. 
    The sad fact is, if you want to be treated with respect, you need to do things that upset some people sometimes. 

  • Carmelita Spats

     Hahahahaha, genius! I’m going to enjoy watching your kid pray to the Raelian gods at his/her public school and then come home to ask you poignant questions about “alien insemination”…and it ain’t the type of icky insemination received by the Virgin Mary, ears to ankles, while in wide stance…The Raelians are also creationists so “teach the controversy” in your kid’s science class….

  • Jim Royal

     Why? Oh, that’s simple. So you can focus your attention on things that will actually stand a chance of improving your life.

    For example, there’s been a significant uptick in the number of “nones” among young people in the USA in the last five years. Sure, the Four Horsemen had some effect. But I’d bet that the key element has been the issue of gay marriage. Young people have inherited less of their parent’s intolerance toward gays, and as a result, they’re leaving their churches.

    Atheists in the USA should be all over this issue, and other social issues that affect people’s relationship with their religion. Get behind issues of social justice that incidentally drive wedges between people and their churches, and be noisy and righteous about it.

    That will improve the lot of atheists in your country a lot more effectively than ranting about creches.

  • Rory

    Apologies if you know this, but from your comment it sounds like you didn’t catch that Ryan was referencing the ‘broken windows’ theory–the criminological idea once much in vogue that it’s important to crack down on minor acts of vandalism and harassment because they send a message that larger transgressions will be tolerated. Again, apologies if you knew this already and I’m being redundant.

  • Rory

     What does DC have to with the nativity scene on government property in Tiny Town, USA?

    Furthermore, if a ‘small cash strapped venue’ loses money as a result of these suits, it’s only because they made the poor decision to fight a battle they were never going to win. Maybe if they’re so strapped for cash they should cut back on nativity scenes and defending hopeless lawsuits.

  • ortcutt

    Why the hell do you think that atheists don’t do that already?  You must have a really warped sense of people’s time if you think that someone can’t simultaneously stand up for gay rights and the Establishment Clause too.  Sorry to disappoint you, but I really do care about our Constitution and secular government.  If you don’t, that’s your choice, but don’t tell me what to do.

  • Coyotenose

     They’ve been answered hundred of times just on this one blog. That you’re an ignorant bigot (and a lying troll, faux homosexual) who can’t be bothered to read before screeching doesn’t change that.

  • Coyotenose

    I did, I was being a bad joker :(

  • Coyotenose

     Oh look, my comment right above yours refuted you before you even posted. Jesus you religionists are thick.

  • Coyotenose

     Looking a little butthurt there, chum.

  • Sandy Kokch

    If you want to see Dave on the show you need to mail the show research team and suggest it. Usually the guests are on there to shove whatever book or film they have out, but Jon does have non sellers on occasionally. Suggest it would fit with his war on the war on Christmas thing….

    Dave also needs to press the point that he and we would equally fight against a local authority or government office that ran ads, campaigns or displays promoting atheism, (or at least I hope we would). No Im not suggesting atheism is a religion, but for the purposes of government promotion it has to be treated equally as one.

    The point that Dave needs to stress is that govt must remain totally neutral. That is the law no matter what faith (or non faith) is the subject.

  • Sandy Kokch

    I wrote a blog article for a friends site about the subject of small s socialism, of the type proposed by Franklin D Roosevelt in his State Of The Union address of 1944, and how it would seriously compromise the strangle hold of religion on US society.  Give it a read and see what you think:

    The promotion of FDR post WW2 small s socialism, and its detrimental effects on religious control of welfare mechanisms and education is one of the potential reasons that religion in N Europe, and particularly my own country the UK, is so weak now.

    Hemant, apologies in advance. Not trying to promote my mates blog, blow my own trumpet, or steal traffic. Just seems relevant to the matters raised by Jim.

  • Sandy Kokch

    The problems with trying to run a modern world power nation like the US by the mangled legalese of a 200+ year old contract are manifold, from the fact a modern assault rifle aint a musket, to the fact you Americans don’t seem to have got why the thing needed Amendments.

    But the main one is that pig ignorant doofuses like you don’t know what the word “nuance” means, nor “context”, and so are unable to understand the intent.

    Personally Im pretty damn sure that had the Framers had a crystal ball that damn document would have a lot more Amendments on it, and would read differently. Im certain that “freedom of” would also include the kicker “and freedom from”.

  • Birdie1986

    Canadians are clearly more secure than Americans (I am not saying that sarcastically).  It’s similar to the points made by Michael Moore (with whom I don’t always agree) in Bowling for Columbine about why American culture is so gun obsessed.  We are a country gripped by fear, and FOX has made billions capitalizing on that and growing the fear.  The Christians who are bothered by requests to remove their religious symbols from government property (i.e., the FOX viewership) are the same who cling to their guns.  I agree with you that constantly pushing to remove the nativity scenes plays into that insecurity.  However, I think we still need to defend the Constitution.  We just need to be consistent about it and make sure we don’t only do it at the holiday season.

    And, for the poster who said how does them erecting an even larger scene on the private church property  two blocks away evidence their insecurity.  Hmm?  Ever hear of “mines bigger than yours”? 

  • Birdie1986

    It does say that the Supreme Court gets to interpret the laws (not in those exact words), and they have interpreted “make no law respecting an establishment of a religion” and the Supreme Court has jurisdiction over “all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution.”  The Supreme Court has interpreted the 1st Amendment to prohibit the government from promoting one religion over another – to separate, in effect, any church from the state. 

  • Birdie1986

    I agree with you, but I do want to point out that the Constitution is not a “contract.”

  • Jim Royal

     “Why the hell do you think that atheists don’t do that already?”

    Some do. But not nearly enough. The reason your country is so screwed up now is because religious nuts got organized — seriously organized — back in the early 1980s. They played the long game with intelligence and perseverance, and they changed your culture so radically that I don’t even recognize it any more.

    “…don’t tell me what to do.”

    If, as I suspect, the driver of extreme religiosity is personal insecurity, then hassling people about creches is probably working against your own interests. I’m not telling you what to do. I’m pointing out something that you might be missing, something that might be important, from the perspective of someone who stands outside the fray. It’s up to you what you do with that information.