Christmas Wars 2004: Why not try equal access?

SantagraveSo what do you think? Should Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer create a national network called "Jews for Christmas"?

Personally, I think it would be a great idea. I would volunteer to help start "Christians for Hanukkah" and I think lots of other traditional Christians would sign up immediately.

As Krauthammer’s recent column — "Just Leave Christmas Alone" — made clear, many of this year’s Christmas culture war skirmishes have nothing to do with tolerance and very little to do with the separation of church and state. They are simply cat fights between armies of liberal fundamentalists and conservative fundamentalists. He chose to pick on the anti-Christmas left, but pick up almost any newspaper these days and there will be a story in it somewhere about the latest outbreaks on the right. (More on that in a minute.) As always, anyone seeking a tidal wave of links to these new reports can hit the Christianity Today Weblog.

From my outpost in South Florida, I took special delight in Krauthammer’s salute to an especially insane rationale given for the banning of one nativity scene in a public place down here in the subtropics. Here is the item in context:

School districts in New Jersey and Florida ban Christmas carols. The mayor of Somerville, Mass., apologizes for "mistakenly" referring to the town’s "holiday party" as a "Christmas party." The Broward and Fashion malls in South Florida put up a Hanukah menorah but no nativity scene. The manager of one of the malls explains: Hanukah commemorates a battle and not a religious event, though he hastens to add, "I really don’t know a lot about it." He does not. Hanukah commemorates a miracle, and there is no event more "religious" than a miracle.

Then again, the cultural steamroller called "The Holidays" has done almost as much damage to the actual religious traditions of Hanukkah as it has to the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Once upon a time, Hanukkah was a smaller Jewish holiday reminding Jews not to compromise their faith when facing pressures to assimilate into a dominant culture. Today, Hanukkah is a giant, major holiday because it is close to the holiday previously known as Christmas. Religious history doesn’t get any more ironic than that.

The key to the current Christmas wars, according to Krauthammer, is that some Americans seem uncomfortable with the concept of equal access to the public square.There are a few right-wing Christian yahoos out there, but the overwhelming majority of traditional Christians are not furious about the emergence of other religious symbols in public life. They are mad about something else. Here is Krauthammer on this reality:

Some Americans get angry at parents who want to ban carols because they tremble that their kids might feel "different" and "uncomfortable" should they, God forbid, hear Christian music sung at their school. I feel pity. What kind of fragile religious identity have they bequeathed their children that it should be threatened by exposure to carols?

I’m struck by the fact that you almost never find Orthodox Jews complaining about a Christmas creche in the public square. That is because their children, steeped in the richness of their own religious tradition, know who they are and are not threatened by Christians celebrating their religion in public. They are enlarged by it.

ManageremptyWithin the past few days, both the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times have spilled lots of ink on this topic and others related to it. The news hook right now has been provided by evangelical groups that are striving — to one degree or another — to use protests and their economic clout to push Christmas back into the marketplace — literally. Here’s the lead from reporter Ellen Barry’s feature in the Los Angeles Times.

RALEIGH, N.C. — This year, as Christmas season swung into gear, Pastor Patrick Wooden’s followers fanned out to shopping malls across Raleigh to deliver a muscular message of holiday cheer: As Christian shoppers, they would like to be greeted with the phrase "Merry Christmas" — not a bland "Happy Holidays" — and stores that failed to do so would risk losing their business.

Nearly six weeks later, some citizens in Raleigh are seething over what they see as an attempt to force religion into the public square. But others say "Merry Christmas" is rolling off their tongues more easily and more often than in previous years.

There are stacks of other anecdotes through which avid readers can chew in this report and in its New York Times counterpart, with spears being rattled left and right. I was especially struck by the calm, constructive Episcopal priest who compares evangelical efforts to push shoppers toward pro-Christmas businesses to Nazi Party requirements that Jews identify themselves by wearing yellow stars. Oh, that and the Maplewood, N.J., school district’s decision to ban instrumental versions of Christmas carols. "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" was zapped for the sin of mentioning the words "Christmas Eve."

What is going on? New York Times reporter Kate Zernike has the best summary I have seen so far:

. . . (The) demands to bring back Christmas are not simply part of an age-old culture war, with the A.C.L.U. in one corner and evangelicals in the other. There is also a more moderate force, asking whether the country has gone too far in its quest to be inclusive of all faiths. Why, they ask, must a Christmas tree become a holiday tree? And is singing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" in a school performance more offensive than singing "Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel"? …

Over the years, schools, governments and even department stores have toned down the mention of Christmas after complaints from Jews and others who felt excluded by a holiday they did not celebrate. "The basic proposition is that people have the right to send their children to the public schools without having them evangelized for someone else’s religion," said Douglas Laycock, a law professor at the University of Texas in Austin. Those opposed to even secular celebrations of Christmas, he said, "see the increasing strength of the religious right and worry about everything they’ve gained over the last generation being rolled back."

That’s the ticket. There is, you see, a valid cultural reason to discriminate against any expressions of Christianity, even the most watered-down, commercialized and secularized — because an oppressive Christian majority is on the march.

Beware the slippery slope that leads to theocracy. Tolerance and our nation’s actual equal access laws are too dangerous. Ditto for free speech, even if that free speech offends almost no one.

So is there a solution to all of this? No way. Anything anyone does right now is going to stir up more venom and that will produce more headlines. Let me stress that these stories are valid and that reporters need to strive to find sane voices on both sides. Believe me, they are out there.

But for starters, what would happen if church leaders stopped whining about the lack of an equal-access creche in the public square (even though their complaints are often valid) and simply put glowing decorations wherever they wished on church properties and private land? What if they organized choirs of carollers to sing on public sidewalks and in other acceptable open-air environments? What if schools offered students a chance to study the actual contents of the religious traditions that touch this season? Why not? It’s worth a try.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    “Personally, I think it would be a great idea. I would volunteer to help start “Christians for Hanukkah” and I think lots of other traditional Christians would sign up immediately.”

    But then you’re leaving the neo-pagans out!

    “What if they organized choirs of carollers to sing on public sidewalks and in other acceptable open-air environments? ”

    But what is “public” and “acceptable” ground? Here in New York the ACLU objected when Hasidim were allowed to gather and pray in a public park (near the hospital where the Rebbe was dying.)

    “No establishment” has been extended until it leaves no room for “free exercise”.

  • JoJo

    Two comments about Terry’s latest.

    First, we should be mindful of the significant difference between the secularization in government institutions (including public schools) and in retail establishments. While there is a well documented history of litigation regarding the mix of church and state, I don’t recall any similar legal action that seeks to separate religion from business. Nor should there be. Whether stores choose to wrap themselves in generic holiday paper instead of Christmas tissue is up to them and, eventually, their customers. I’m betting that the retailers’ decision to favor Seasons Greetings over Merry Christmas has more to do with profits than prophets. Of course it is their right to run their businesses as they see fit, and the public has the freedom to choose where to spend their dollars.

    Regarding the issue of religion in public square, it is worthwhile to note the origins of the conflict. Missing from Terry’s post is any sense of the historical background of a society in which emphasized a majority religion while treating any minority beliefs with indifference if not outright hostility. That omission is even more regrettable since it continues to this day. In the last few years the Columbus (Ohio) Schools faced legal challenges because of repeated complaints about school concerts that were nothing more than overtly Christian worship services. It’s easy to take potshots at hypersensitive people who go ga-ga at any mention of the C-word. This was the opposite extreme. It happens and we need to acknowledge that it happens.

    Right-wing Christian columnist Cal Thomas once wrote something to the effect that it’s time for Christians to get over it, stop whining, and start doing God’s work. I heartily agree. Accept the fact that the Supreme Court says that you can’t mandate a Christian style prayer in a school paid for by taxes and where the kids are required by law to be there. So what? Our society has provided you with more blessings than you realize, most notably the extraordinary freedom to practice your faith in your own sanctuary on your own time. All that and some big tax advantages on donations and the property to boot. Pretty cool…

  • http://onlinefaith.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    “I’m betting that the retailers’ decision to favor Seasons Greetings over Merry Christmas has more to do with profits than prophets.”

    Allow me to be more cynical: they are willing to bet on “not offending” because they understand that the more secularized out there are their better customers.

    Also, it seems to me that the issue of the “oppressive majority” is rather overstated. The famous cases (e.g. Ms. O’Hair) seem rather to involve not contending religions but rather an adamantly intolerant secularism. The actual inclinations of the participants don’t seem that much different from the charactures of today.

  • http://christnu.org?ref=getreligion Steve Bragg

    Jojo wrote: “Accept the fact that the Supreme Court says that you can’t mandate a Christian style prayer in a school paid for by taxes and where the kids are required by law to be there.”

    You’re right. I do accept that American law is now against the Christian, in public schools and elsewhere. But you’re wrong about attendance requirements–they AREN’T required to be there in most states.

    I ought to have the right to take my tax money and take my kids elsewhere. Or, pocket it and educate my kids at home (where they will get a better education anyway). But, that won’t happen, will it? The state is too greedy and inefficient for that, and moreover, it wants to try and force me through financial need to subject my children to its wicked didacts.

    So, my only option is complete cognitive dissonance: teach my own kids whether the state taxes me in a confiscatory way or not. And thus I will do.

    Millions more Christian parents are doing the same thing.

    Steve Bragg

    DOUBLE TOOTHPICKS

  • http://www.bluemassgroup.com David

    Here in Massachusetts, we have the remarkable spectacle of the Archbishop of Boston telling parishioners that they may not celebrate Christmas Mass in their own church because the Archdiocese has slated that church for closing. (Read the story: http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2004/12/20/request_to_reopen_church_denied/ ) All of the folks raising the ruckus about whether a Christmas tree may or may not be displayed at their local city hall could learn a thing or two about the true meaning of Christmas from the parishioners who are holding 24-hour vigils in their churches to prevent them from being closed and sold. Related post: http://bluemassgroup.typepad.com/blue_mass_group/2004/12/of_trees_and_me.html

  • JoJo

    Wingate–

    Of course you are correct that Americans have the option to send their children to a private school if they don’t like the public schools. And that’s great. I’m quite in favor of freedom of choice, especially when faith is involved. But think more carefully about your argument that anyone should be able to opt out of any government program that they don’t support. Should I be able to withhold my taxes that pay for the war in Iraq? Torture in military prisons? Faith based initiatives for religious movements of which I don’t approve? Streets that I don’t drive on? Heck, this could go on forever. Being part of a community doesn’t mean that you should get everything that you want. It does mean that you have a voice. Think about the Amish, the Mennonites, the Quakers, what they have to contend with. Lots of Christians manage this cognitive dissonance just fine, and I’m sure that you can too.

    Steve–

    O’Hair is dead; Christ lives. While Ms. O’Hair garnered many of the headlines, you’ll find that some of the most important church/state court cases involved people of faith. The landmark Pledge of Allegiance cases came about because of Jehovah’s Witnesses who felt that saying the pledge was the same as betraying their God. And in a recent school prayer case, Santa Fe ISD in Texas, the plaintiffs were Roman Catholic and Mormon. These are not your cartoon character atheists.

  • Norman Ravitch

    When I was in the seventh grade on Long Island, NY, many years ago a teacher told us that Xmas was used to take Christ out of Christmas. She also implied that merchants (aka Jews) were to blame. We were too green to know that X stands for Xristos, Christ, and has been used for almost 2000 years by Christians. Putting Christ back in Christmas can be a front for anti-semitism just as taking Christ out can be a front for militant secularism. What we really need is to ignore the religious fanatics and the secularist fanatics and learn to laugh a bit more at ourselves. After all, most American believe in the most incredible nonsense: that God created everything in six days, that he had a son who needed to die to save man, that Jesus was born of a virgin, and all that crap.

  • Jerry

    I bet Norm prides himself on his tolerance. And also that he has a rather long roster of Others.

  • http://www.gideonsblog.blogspot.com Noah Millman

    Very good piece. In the spirit of pure self-promotion, I thought I’d pass on a link to my own thoughts about the “Holiday Season”:

    http://www.gideonsblog.blogspot.com/2004_12_01_gideonsblog_archive.html#110331202626218424

    An excerpt:

    “If I had to compare Hanukkah to an American and Christian holiday, it would not be Christmas, but rather Thanksgiving. What, ultimately, are we giving thanks for on Thanksgiving? For the fact that the American experiment was going to go forward, apparently with God’s blessing. The Pilgrims of Massachusetts saw that they would survive, and our presence here is a consequence of their survival. Hanukkah, similarly, celebrates God’s continued favor: the cleansing and rededication of the Temple was made possible by a miracle, which proved that God still showed favor on the Temple and on the people who depended on its rites for atonement.

    If I had to compare Christmas with a Jewish holiday, meanwhile, the best candidate would be Tabernacles – Sukkot, in Hebrew. Sukkot is referred to in Hebrew as “The Season of our Joy” (Passover is “The Season of our Liberation” and Pentecost is, “The Season of our Receiving the Torah”). The holiday commemorates the Israelites’ wandering in the wilderness prior to entry into the Land of Israel. But the thrust of the holiday points forward, to Messianic days when the Temple will be restored and, as Isaiah prophecies, all nations will worship at God’s holy mountain. Significantly, unlike the Passover sacrifice which only Israelites could partake of, the sacrifices of Sukkot could be joined in by any nation who worshipped the one true God. Sukkot is a major holiday, of comparable religious significance to Jews as Christmas is to Christians; and it is a holiday with a particularly universal message, and one of joy and peace and Messianic fulfillment, just as Christmas’ message is.

    There are even below-the-surface resonances. For example: on Sukkot, we dwell in booths, temporary structures open to the elements, to symbolize our dependence on the Divine for protection and to recall the wandering in the wilderness. That surely resonates with the Christian story of Jesus born in a manger (and for all I know there’s a historic connection between the two; you tell me).

    And Sukkot, unlike Hanukkah, offers non-Jewish proprietors and building owners the opportunity to actually help Jews practice their religion, should they choose to. On Sukkot, as noted, we “dwell” in booths. This is understood, minimally, to involve eating meals in these booths, which must be temporary structures open to the sky, with only loose thatch on top. They must be erected after the High Holidays and are taken down after Sukkot. Obviously, the need to eat in one of these structures is a problem for working people at lunchtime (and for some, like apartment-dwellers, at all times). A business who wanted to show “sensitivity” to Jewish citizens could allow a local synagogue or whatnot to erect a small sukkah (booth) on the business’s property during the holiday, for the convenience of those who need a place to fulfill the mitzvah.

    Unfortunately, Sukkot falls in the autumn, in late September or October. So it’s never going to be the Jewish “answer” to Christmas.

    Fortunately, there is an obscure connection between Hanukkah and Sukkot. So I can end this rumination on a positive note that looks forward to the resolution of all difficulties.”

  • Mark Buehner

    Because private land exposed to public view will be next. Back in the closet Christians! You are corrupting our youth.

    Anybody else notice that the left makes the identical arguments about ‘flamboyant’ Christians that the right makes about homosexuals?

    Ironic.

  • Liam

    Btw, based on the timetable given in the Gospel of Luke (where the annuciation to Zachary, father of John the Baptist, is clearly linked to Zachary’s tribal subgroup and we know the annual assignments for the Temple, et cet), it seems that the nativity of Jesus most likely occurred around Sukkot, and that the annunciation to Mary occurred around Chanukah (withe annuciation to Zachary occuring around Shavuot and the birth of the Baptist occuring around Pesach). In the time of the Temple, Sukkot was one of the three major pilgrimage feasts, along with Pesach and Shavuot. And since Christians often employ the imagery of Tabernacle both for Mary’s pregnancy of Jesus and for the human nature of Jesus — in different way, tabernacles of the Divine Word Made Flesh — Sukkot is right on!

  • http://ambiguousspaces.blogspot.com catfish

    Mark,

    So according to your slippery slope argument, the state should actively support Christianity by diplaying its symbols because to do otherwise will eventually result in a banning of religious displays on private land? It seems like a robust seperation of church and state would prevent that.

    It also seems to me that if Christians wish to protect their right to practice their religion, they should shift their priorities. Instead of spending energy trying to get the government to specifically endorse Christain symbols, holidays, and theology, efforts could be made to ensure that individual religious people are free to practice their religion unmolested by the state. For example, this could include renewed efforts to have a moment of silence at the beginning of the school day (students could reflect, pray, or whatever without specific state endorsement or hindrance of religious practice). The emphasis would be on the duty of the state to make reasonable accomodations for individuals so that they can practice their religion as individuals.

    Again, this means abandoning the goal of making the US an officially Christian country, but is perfectly compatible with making it a country filled with practicing Christians. In this struggle for true pluralism and tolerance, I offer you the support of this secular person.

  • Liam

    One thing that people forget when dealing with the First Amendment on religion matters is its intersection with the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause: this intersection means that the government cannot discriminate selectively against certain beliefs.

    So, were students allowed to offer prayers over the PA systems in public schools, students of all belief systems would have to be given equal access. Include students who practice occult or Wicca; if you think those students are imaginary, I can assure you that these days such is not the case. A prayer to God over the PA system would have to make room, potentially, for a prayer to Satan. Do people want that?

  • Mark Buehner

    Catfish, i dont have to make the slippery slope argument, it is manifest. Personally I have no problem with banning all forms of semi-permanent display on public grounds, and that is legally the only remedy here. No Menorahs, no crescents, no nothing. But that isnt what we are seeing, Christian symbols are being systematically removed, not legally always, but via public pressure and the threat of lawsuits itself. This has extended into malls and all types of places. You can argue whether this is good or bad, but I dont think you can argue it isnt happening. Which is my point.

    There is something wrong with a world where you can rightly teach how Hebrew history and faith influenced the formation of Israel, but have to literally lie to children on the influence of Christianity on the pilgrims and forefathers. That isnt proof of where the anti-christians wish to take us? This isnt about defending minorities, its about silencing Christianity and pretending it doesnt and didnt exist.

    Just as fundamentalists wish to prevent the schools and government from ‘endorsing’ the homosexual lifestyle, while also pressuring media outlets not to, so too does the anti-christian left pressure the same institutions, and using identical arguments. Everyone is worried about indoctrinating the children, which always sets my BS detector into the red. In my experience, anybody you invokes defending children (other peoples, of course) has an argument they know they cant win on the merits.

  • Will

    “This was the opposite extreme. It happens and we need to acknowledge that it happens.”

    As was said by the prophet Thurber, “You may as well fall flat on your face as lean too far over backwards.”

    And what ever happened in the uproar over the witch who was rejected to give the invocation for the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors.

  • Joan
  • http://onlinefaith.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    JoJo, I think you’ve mistaken me for someone else.

    There’s a big difference between the people like the JWs and the Amish whose aim was for *themselves* to avoid participation in the objectionable acts. The history of the cross-concessions between these groups and the state is instructive, but it is also markedly different from the character of the issues at hand. In the end, after various scrapes, the result was something that I could indeed recognize as tolerance.

    What these groups didn’t do– and for the most part, didn’t think of doing– was to insist that all these acts had to cease entirely. I think that’s very much the point of Krauthammer’s message: that the issue has ceased being about religious people demanding free exercise, and has become all about secularized people suppressing religious expression in general. That’s precisely why the school systems have become such a battleground.

    Now the Santa Fe case is an exception to this trend; to my eye the over-the-intercom prayer was objectionable. On the other hand, that vaunted “tolerance” would have had this Episcopalian gritting his teeth but saying nothing.

  • JoJo

    Wingate–

    “…the issue has ceased being about religious people demanding free exercise, and has become all about secularized people suppressing religious expression in general…”

    When the forces of darkness prohibit you from worshiping as you wish in your home or in your church or synagogue, let me know and I’ll stand by you and fight. But when we’re talking about refraining from overtly religious displays or activities paid for by taxes, forget it. Ditto for businesses that choose to avoid religion in the marketplace lest they offend a customer.

    Do you believe that the ACLU and others are on a mission to stamp out Christianity altogether? The facts do not support such a conspiracy theory.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    JoJo and Co. (that has a nice ring to it):

    I’ve been watching this flow past for a day or so and I now need to comment.

    The subject of my post is EQUAL ACCESS to the public square and these laws are, in large part, the product of right-wingers like Bill Clinton and a stunning coalition — from the ACLU to the Southern Baptist Convention — has endorsed them.

    “Overtly religious displays” are just fine on public property if they are balanced and no one is locked out. That’s the whole issue. You have doctrinal symbols on one side and generic on the other. You cannot have equal access with that kind of discrimination.

    Now, you can make a case that traditional Christians should not welcome a chance to see their traditions put into that kind of watered-down environment. That’s a whole ‘nother issue.

    With the exception of a few yahoos, most of the Christians who are yelping right now are calling for equal access — not a lock-out of minorities. They are protesting a lock-out of the majority.

    Now the issue of the marketplace is another matter. Stores and malls are free to do whatever they wish. And consumers are free to protest to their hearts’ content. That’s called free speech. You already know where this blog is on that. The solution to a free speech clash is more free speech. The alternatives are worse.

    P.S. I have a graduate degree in church-state studies. I do tend to take these kinds of issues seriously. So keep the comments coming.

  • http://wildfaith.blogspot.com/ Darrell Grizzle

    I live in Marietta, Georgia, and our town square currently has a large and beautiful nativity scene, crafted by Fontanini. A coalition of local churches has joined together to rent the square for several days, so the city government is not sponsoring the nativity scene. The town square is frequently rented out for weddings, concerts, political rallies, and other events (including a rally in October against the anti-gay marriage amendment). I think this is the kind of “equal access” tmatt is talking about. I suppose if I wanted to rent the square to commemorate Wesak, the celebration of the Buddha’s birth, I could do so — although I’d probably have a hard time pulling together a coalition of folks in this town to help finance it. :o)

  • http://www.boycottsantaforChristssake.com meg funk

    I and everyone I know is tired of the media, the retailers and the schools stance on Christmas, trying to make it a secular holiday instead of a Christian holy day. I have a solution, I’m 100 % sure it will work, I feel it was inspired by the Holy Spirit.

    I propose a Boycott of mainstream retailers. No one should buy anything except from Christian retail stores for one Christmas. The spiritual quality of the presents would be better, and we wouldn’t be handing our money to retailers that belittle our faith.

    If we would all, every Christian in the country, every Who in Whoville, would go for one year celebrating Christmas without buying anything from the stores that refuse to use the word “Christmas”, it would stop this policy dead in its tracks! The retailers would start publicizing Christmas and even the government (the White House doesn’t even mention Christmas on its web site) would have to take notice.

    Please publicize this and pass the idea on to everyone you know. Let’s boycott the commercial version of Christmas, for Christ’s sake! We can celebrate quietly and reverently without charging out our credit cards.

    Our goal is to force the retailers, the government, and the media to acknowledge that Christians are the majority, this country was founded on Christian principles, and the birth of Christ is a sacred holy day not a three ring circus, or a generic “holiday” or a soulless “season.”

    By withholding our shopping dollars we will make them sit up and take notice and once again show the same respect for OUR religious beliefs that they show for the more obscure religions.

    You can’t get any more democratic than that!

  • Mark Buehner

    You’ll get the Christ out of Christmas long before you get the consumerism out. Thats just a fact.

  • Ryan Koehler

    Religion should be taught in Church. Readin, Writin’, and ‘rithmatic should be taught in schools. Mayors should foucus on efficient and just governance. I don’t understand how some on the right badmouth public schools and big government, but then whine that these same suspect systems don’t try and teach people about their religious beliefs. Parents and pastors should control theological dictates, not bureaucrats and teachers.

    The majority of Christmas reminders you see are not about Jesus, because the Church doesn’t pay for them. Buisness do, so they hype the presents issue, the commercialsim of it. Do true believers really want a further explotation of Jesus to increase fourth quarter profit margins? Do they really want baby Jesus next to Rudolph and Santa and Frosty, so he is reduced to just another scholocky pop-culture figure? I would think the son of god deserves better than such a fate.

    The true message of Jesus (accept him as your savior and devote yourself to helping the poor, downtrodden, and distressed) seems to be ignored in favor of some sort of brand maximization: all Jesus, all the time, even if it is superficial and empty, because Jesus maximization proves a victory in some sort of zero sum culture war, and the important thing is to anger the ACLU, not follow the dictates of the prince of peace.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Yo, Ryan:

    So you are opposed to the U.S. government’s equal access laws?

    I ask that, even though you can tell from my post’s final lines that I share some of your concerns about the whining right on these issues.

    But equal access is supposed to be the law. That’s what is interesting about all this. And a Holiday Tree does not equal a Menorah.

  • Jeff in Ohio

    How about a story of equal acsess working? tmatt wondered about churches organizing carolers, the four congregations surrounding our town square decided to try that this year. The square is set up with an ice rink for the winter. People are there, and we’ve started having multi-denominational events together, so one Pastor called the director in charge to ask if it would be alright to carol. We got a green light. Sunday evening we showed up and sang real live Christmas carols. The weather was dismal, turnout low, and a good time was had by all. No complaints, the cop added a good tenor on a couple songs, and we’ve been invited to do it again next year. One success story does not outweigh all the horror stories, but it does show the system can work. If any anti’s show up that might be the end, or not. The city payed nothing for this, no soliscitation was offered by us, and we asked beforehand.

  • JoJo

    Terry–

    Very helpful of you to repoint us to the issue of equal access. I also appreciate seeing the reminder that some of the usual bogeymen are actually advocates of equal access, not opponents of organized religion. Does anyone else recall that President Clinton signed into law the Restoration of Religious Freedom Act, I think it was called?

    While the original topic was limited to equal access, it’s problematic for this discussion to disregard the tendency on the part of certain groups to push for creeping theocracy. It’s relevant because many complaints about “militant secularization” and “the anti-Christian left” can likely be traced back to very real violations of the anti-establishment clause. Another point that I wish you would note is that equal access has rarely been equal. Notwithstanding a few oddball counterexamples, traditional Christianity tends to get a whole lot more favoritism this country. (And that one bizarre case of allowing the Menorah but banning the creche? That was in a private mall, correct? Not the public square?)

    I suspect that we agree on more than may be apparent. You write:

    “‘Overtly religious displays’ are just fine on public property if they are balanced and no one is locked out.”

    And that very specific comment is correct of course. But furthermore, I’ll maintain that individuals, with their own time and money, ought to be responsible for such displays. Not municipal workers, not tax dollars.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    JoJo:

    Nope. The Menorah vs. the creche battle is very common — in public settings, not malls. Like I said, it made it all the way to the Supreme Court.

    I also disagree with you that, in the past decade or so, that the Christian symbols have been treated better than those of other faiths. There are just way too many cases — so many that even the New York Times ended up having to mention the reality of that fact.

    Equal access is not perfect. Frankly, I wish churches and other Christian groups (a) knew the law and (b) spent more of their time thinking about using their free speech in other ways.

    But the basic principle is clear: What you do in the public square for one faith, you are supposed to do for others. Viewpoint discrimination is NOT the law.


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