Here ye go again

1127lgWait a minute. Have the malls already been turned into little fake islands of New England? Is it already that time of year?

Methinks that this punchy little story by Richard N. Ostling of the Associated Press officially represents the starting bell for that season most beloved to merchants and lawyers — The Holidays.

Yes, the Christmas wars are getting off to a very early start.

“Wordless instrumental music”? Saints preserve us!

Communities and courts have long fielded protests against municipal creche displays and school Nativity pageants, based on strict views of church-state separation and sensitivity toward religious minorities. In recent years, however, local disputes have extended to carol singing, wordless instrumental music, Christmas trees and decorations, classroom visits by Santa Claus, distribution of Christmas-themed cards and gifts, “Merry Christmas!” greetings and designation of Christmas on official calendars.

This week, the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal group based in Scottsdale, Ariz., announced that its 800 cooperating attorneys have volunteered to handle without fee complaints about “improper attempts to censor the celebration of Christmas in schools and on public property.”

Truth be told, there are valid issues at stake here. I know that. But I do wish that more churches would put more effort into actually marking Advent (or Nativity Lent, in the East) and then actually celebrating Christmas — all 12 days of it after Dec. 25 — in their own homes, in their own sanctuaries, on their own property and, in ways that are completely legal, by caroling and greeting people in the public square. Just do it.

And if you want to laugh to keep from crying, dig out a copy — used ones right here — of the classic Away with the Manger by an evangelical wise guy named Chris Fabry. My favorite moment is when the angry Christians march toward the town square, led by a U.S. Marine, who helps them belt out this military-style chant:

You can’t take our holiday!
It’s in our heart and here to stay!
Sound off!
Sound off!

I think you get the idea.

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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://bunniediehl.worldmagblog.bunniediehl Bunnie

    God bless you, Terry Mattingly.

    Why don’t reporters cover the many Christmas displays that liturgical CHristians put up in their worship spaces?

    Not every Christian thinks a creche in town square is preferable to one on the church lawn.

    Not to mention that the large liturgical community of Christians — who celebrate a solemn Advent — are completely forgotten by most of the media (if not actively fought against!).

  • http://JAVA ECJ

    “Just do it.”

    Well and good, but the nexus of the argument is the legitimacy of religious expression in the public square. Secularists are seeking an exclusively secular public square by falsely asserting that secularism is a neutral observation point between faith systems. But in fact secularism is not neutral. It constitutes a separate coherent faith system, and secularists rather like the exclusive privileges they currently enjoy.

    The ACLU (and its fellow travelers) would be quite happy if Christians did their little nativity scenes in their little church parking lots – just so long as they park all of their Christian presuppositions as well before they re-enter the public square.


  • Avram

    Actually, ECJ, the nexus of the argument is the legitimacy of state-sponsored religious expression. You’re welcome to have religious views, and express them in public, but you don’t get to use the power of the state to back them up.

    Also, you seem to be using saying “secular” and meaning “atheistic”. They aren’t the same.

    Terry, the Mid-Manhattan Mall was already starting to erect its big fake Christmas tree yesterday, and it’s not even Thanksgiving.

  • Bartholomew

    Thanks, Avram. I’m always amused by the conservative Christian recourse to postmodernism and relativism when it suits, as shown in ECJ’s claim that secular neutrality is just a “faith system”.

  • Avram

    Y’know, somewhere in the US, there just has to be a town where the mostly non-religious town council wants to have a tree and a manger on the lawn in front of town hall, because they have such fond memories of Christmas from their childhoods, and a strident group of one of those Calvinist-leaning sects suing to stop them because they object to such idolatry.

  • tmatt


    At the same time, you have to be consistent. A Santa Claus or naked tree does not represent Christianity in the same way that a menorah represents Judaism. You have many public officials who are, under US law, practicing viewpoint descrimination by allowing lots of other religious expressions in public institutions while editing out the Christians.

    At my young son’s public school years ago here in MD, the library had tables of books on native American religions, myths, beliefs, etc. You could do whatever you wanted with Buddhism, Islam, etc. But the Little House on the Prairie books had all the religious parts removed…

  • Avram

    Terry, that’s the second or third time you’ve mentioned the Little House books having the religious parts removed. Could you link to something on this? ‘Cause all I’ve been able to find along those lines is little kids’ picture books based on those books, while you seem to be implying edited versions of the actual books.

    I suspect that what those school administrators are thinking is that they’re educating kids in a Christian-dominated culture about other cultures and religions, and assuming that they’re already exposed to Christianity at home and in the general culture. Probably not as safe an assumption as it used to be.

    And are you talking about a seven-branched or nine-branched menorah? The former is a traditional symbol of Judaism, more religious than the Star of David (which used to be primarily a political symbol). The latter (also called a hanukia) just represents Hanukah.

  • ECJ


    What constitutes the state “backing up” a religious viewpoint?

    If Bob says that an unborn child is deserving of constitutional protection because he is a unique creation of God and posseses an immortal soul, Bob will be told that he is trying to use the power of the state to impose his religion.

    If Bill says that a fetus is not a person, but instead only a random event with no sentience, and no significance worthy of overturning the interests of the mother, he will be expressing the basis of law as currently practiced in the United States. (Of course, if Bill did believe a fetus was a person, but aborted it anyway, Bill would be performing a despicable act. Bill is locked into asserting the insignificance of the fetus.)

    Bob and Bill have both made metaphysical statements – “person” or “protoplasm” – upon which rest the whole weight of their respective arguments. But only one such metaphysical statement is currently “backed up” by the power of the state.

    The issue in the public square is this: “What do we hold to be good, right, and true such that it should form the basis of law?” Bob is told that any basis which presumes the existence of God is an unconstitutional intrusion. Bill however can without fear of contradiction choose any basis which presumes the non-existence (or, more generically, the disinterest) of God. There is nothing neutral about it.


  • ECJ


    I am a pre-modern Calvinist, and thankfully so. There is nothing post-modern about me.

    If I point out that every man possesses a faith system, I am pointing out a self-evident fact. Every man has presuppositions which he accepts on faith. Syllogisms have to terminate. They do not infinitely regress. This is not post-modernism. It’s just logic.


  • Avram

    Yes, but “faith system” is not synonymous with “religion”.

    ECJ, we were talking about religious displays, not abortion. I don’t feel like spending half an hour unraveling all the problems with arguments that present “random event with no sentience” and “unique creation of God” as if they were antonyms, or had legal relevence.

  • Molly

    I have no problem with Christmas trees and “wordless” music in public, but what made me almost crash my car last spring was a nine foot inflatable pink Easter Bunny on the lawn of a local Lutheran church.

  • Stephen A.

    Just read this news update:

    There will be no Nativity Scene in Washington DC this year!

    The Supreme Court has ruled that there cannot be a Nativity Scene in Washington this Christmas season.

    This isn’t for any religious reason, they simply have not been able to find three wise men and a virgin in the Nation’s capitol.

    There was no problem, however, finding enough asses to fill the stable.
    Okay. I’m in a funny (half-serious) mood, so I’ll just throw this one out:

    Is a nativity scene okay with secularists if Joseph and Mary and the Christ child are joined by a plastic statue of Sigmund Freud?

    In fact, I’d be kind of amused – not offended – if a secularist put a creche on his/her lawn composed of secular humanist figures. Wonder if something like this (though perhaps not this ludicrous) has been done, as a “compromise” measure?