Should Atheists Fight Religious Christmas Displays on Public Property?

The video below, part of The Atheist Voice series, answers the question: Should atheists fight religious Christmas displays on public property?:

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the project — more videos will be posted soon — and we’d also appreciate your suggestions as to which questions we ought to tackle next!

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.

  • Jasper

    I don’t know why it’s so difficult to understand why we fight these little battles.

    It’s generally smarter to put out the fire when it’s a smoldering cigarette in the grass, than waiting until it’s a million-acre forest fire to start doing something about it.

  • John Lev

    I say yes. The reason being is that if we don’t then we start seeing these used as examples of how “We’re a Christian Nation” (TM). I know it’s unpopular and most of the time it’s not a fight that I’d personally pick but over the last few yrs I’ve been changing my stance on this issue just because christians like to point to things like this as examples. Everything from the 9/11 cross to 70 yr old war memorials w/ crosses on them. I find it ironic that some christians will point to “In God We Trust” on our money and “Under God” in our pledge as their examples when most senior citizens can remember when they were added. So yes…it should be fought.

  • evodevo

    Camel, nose, tent. I rest my case.

  • kccoallday

    Exactly. There was a Fox News nut on the Thom Hartmann show a couple days ago, and he was arguing this exact topic, and the first argument that he pulled out to defend nativity scenes on public property was to claim that we’re a “Christian nation” and cite “In God We Trust” as proof of this. I facepalmed rather violently.

  • No Gods No Glory

    The bigest problem I see is that we appear as petty – oh, and think of the children!!!! (yes, four exclamation marks to indicate extremely fake concern).
    Although I agree that we should fight religious symbols and customs on public property, I would abstain from certain key days simply on the grounds that it’s no longer a christian holiday. XMas is probably one of them – my muslim friend celebrates xmas with her muslim children. They (children) are blissfully unaware of the origin of that custom. All they care about is the nice tree, gifts, and family.
    So let’s pick our fights carefully. Should we fight on principle? Only when we can win not only on the letters of the law, but also the public opinion. Although we would win this one on legal grounds, the victory would be pyrrhic. People would see atheists as grinches, intent on making the world a dreary, cold place. They’d be dead wrong, but still.
    Let’s win the smarter ones first: religious symbols from class rooms, commandments from city halls, no veiled faces in public. Once those are gone, enough people understand that public property is not for religious expression, and the nativity scenes vanish by themselves – or a court battle is understood as a good thing by the majority.
    If we attack everyone and everything in sight on matter of principle, we’ll never win the public opinion – just like the unfortunate ‘Operation Christmas Child’ incident.

  • Neko

    I agree with this. I would add, be clever. If the Satanic Temple maneuver ends up inspiring a riot of religious monuments at the Oklahoma State Capitol, that would be a delightful and clear statement about the establishment clause. The Times Square campaign, on the other hand, is churlish and inflammatory.

    Also, keep Saturn in Saturnalia!

  • scipio1

    There’s nothing as churlish and inflammatory as religion.

  • alanwil2

    It is very important to fight religious displays, prayer in school, and other religious customs in the public government functions because the fight is about equality for everyone. Not everyone is a Christian. Why do people have to be submissive to the majority? That is BS. Who died and made them King?

  • LizzyJessie

    Jesus died, duh… What? Are you expecting someone wielding a long blade to come in and declare themselves King? Listen, strange women lyin’ in ponds distributin’ swords is no basis for a system of government.

  • evodevo

    Any church, private house or other private entity can put up a creche. They can all get together and put a BIG one up on private property. I have never understood why it HAS to be on city property in front of the firehouse or city hall or whatever. Why should my tax dollars (usually in the form of city workers helping to erect and maintain it) go for this? Don’t I have a say at all? The whole point of the religious freedom thingy, as far as I can discern from the writings of the “Founding Fathers”, was to PREVENT dictation of religious mores by the majority on the minority. So, YES, petty or not, we should fight it. It’s just another example of pushy Christians whining about “persecution”.

  • Cdat88

    You asked why on public property? To keep pushing the envelope. Like a child misbehaving a little more each time, to see what they can get away with. Also, about “proving” the “christian nation” point. The do it, we make an issue, it goes to court, money is spent (Hey, it is not the individuals money. It is revenue from taxes, so it is not real money, right?) Even if they lose, they can claim a moral victory, and if asked about all the money lost on this fools errand, they can blame the godless heathens!

  • John Bidwell

    I often look over childhood photos- when I was so wrong about everything. But I see the happiness. I’ve learned my parents were not gods, but the adoration I feel for them now is even better. Christmas is now about art instead of reason, beauty instead of history. Perhaps this is about a baby we shouldn’t throw out with the bath water. Just the wonder of a baby. No such thing as divine? How about they are all divine? I do believe in shedding, but I find the old skin rather beautiful in it’s own way. It just reminds me how far we’ve come, like Santa does. We don’t have to be too old for bed time stories. What do we have to display? Let’s get about that. I don’t feel we have a cause, we have the truth. It needs no defense, it has forever. Let’s get busy celebrating that and never mind what others are doing. Light does not fight darkness, it just shines.

  • DavidMHart

    There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the Christmas myths for what they are, if that’s what you like. But we are talking about people who believe those myths are literally true, attempting to carve out special privileges for themselves, at the taxpayer’s expense. You can oppose that without opposing the celebration of Christmas by private citizens.

  • Stephen Cody

    I feel that generic Christmas displays including Santa, elves and trees are ok. But as soon s we start getting into mangers, and menorahs it crosses the line.

  • Spuddie

    Mangers and menorahs are ok together. One or the other, not so much. When it comes to these things the rule of thumb is “the more the merrier”.

  • Guest

    I think we need to use tact when approaching this issue. I agree ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ but I think inclusivity is the best bet because all sides will be appeased and it demonstrates the beauty and magnitude of free speech. Plus, I think the diversity is a medium to teach both young and old about about the plethora of faiths or lack of faith held by everyone.

    I don’t agree that it should be viewed as an affront to the Christian privilege of the majority however, because it comes acros as confrontational and that only leads to push-back from not only the fundamental Christians but moderate and even liberal Christians. I think the Satanists and Hindus seem to approaching more tactfully by not making it about Christianity so much but simply participating in the public domain.

    I understand both sides to this issue but, again, I just think approaching it with the premise of everyone being represented leads to easier and better results.

  • Rheba Kelly Dhalai

    Frankly I live in a multi ethnic, multi cultural country and for every religious celebration those various religious symbols are put up. If all are allowed to have their display up then I guess it is okay. However, on the flip side of this is, I believe alot of these religious people like confrontation and as such once we oppose their displays in public places they are ready to fight us.

  • bananafaced

    Don’t fight ’em, join ’em!!! Put up your own display.

  • Spuddie

    I support that more than just fighting the symbols. The more the merrier. Plus plurality of displays would pass muster with lawsuits more easily than removing all of them. the supreme court has pretty much said as long as the number of religions/views supported in the displays are greater than one, it’s probably Ok. (and none of that,”we play both kinds of music country AND western” nonsense)

  • GubbaBumpkin

    My thought is that you should call it government property rather than public property. This would more clearly convey the point of contention.

  • Prototype Atheist

    Absolutely we should challenge overtly religious displays on public property. Christians in the United States have long taken advantage of their majority status to violate the Constitution with their religious displays on government property. Challenging this may make us unpopular, but who cares, we are already the “least trusted” minority. But the tide is turning as more people turn away from religion.

    Preferably, we would simply have such displays removed, rather than clutter up public spaces with numerous displays, such as what is being proposed in Oklahoma with the Church of Satan and Hindus offering to erect displays alongside the Ten Commandments. It is the same reason that religion should not be taught in public schools (other than in a historical/cultural sense), because there are so many religions, it would be impossible to cover them all equally.

    I am an atheist, and I still celebrate Christmas secularly. I would still love to see Christmas trees, lights, snowmen, reindeer, Santa, wreaths, etc. adorning our public spaces. None of these have any connection to religion or Jesus. But don’t try putting up a nativity scene and telling me it belongs representing all of the people.