We’re critiquing Sarah Palin’s book about the War on Christmas, Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas. I’m pulling out the good, the bad, and the ugly in the book. With this post, it’s the Bad.
Palin is determined to play one of the many besieged but brave Christians living out their simple and honest faith, as is their God-given right. She imagines angry atheists lurking behind every lamp pole muttering Scrooge’s words like a mantra, “If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart!”
Let’s see if those fears of persecution hold up.
Separation of church and state
Palin enumerates many recent cases where she feels that Christians’ rights in America have been stepped on. Santa Monica is one such case. For decades, the city allowed an elaborate nativity scene on public land, but protests forced the city to assign slots to groups from any religion by lottery. In 2011, atheist organizations won 18 of 21 which, of course, brought the Christians out to protest. Forced to change the rules yet again, the city didn’t allow any displays in 2012.
The city went from one religion showcased, to all religions, to none. This is typical of the evolution in other cases. (If allowing all comers bothers Christians, I don’t know why that is hard to anticipate up front. And why seeing example after example of this progression doesn’t make Christians realize that religious displays on public land just don’t make sense.)
Though atheists are imagined as the Grinch, this isn’t to say that Christians in Santa Monica were muzzled or that churches or front yards couldn’t display Christmas messages, as always. It’s just that citizens’ tax money and the prestige of the government weren’t given to promote Christianity.
We’re seeing more examples in 2013. There’s a “Keep the Saturn in Saturnalia” billboard responding to a “Keep Christ in Christmas” sign in a town in New Jersey, and a Satanist monument is planned to go up next to a Ten Commandments display on public land in Oklahoma City. Here’s an idea: just cut to the chase and avoid all religious displays on public land.
Palin wonders why everyone is mean to Christians with a quote from the president of Fox News:
What the hell is so offensive about putting up a plastic Jewish family on my lawn at Chistmastime? (32)
It’s not. That’s not what we’re talking about. No one cares about Christian or Satanist or Pastafarian displays on private land; it’s religion promoted on public land that’s the issue.
What Would the Constitution Do?
Much is made about “angry atheists” and their darn lawyers. Palin says,
Thanks to a highly technical quirk in constitutional law very few people know about and even fewer understand, [atheists] are very, very influential. An angry atheist with a lawyer is one of the most powerful persons in America. (22)
This odd “quirk” is simply that you needn’t be personally injured to bring a lawsuit against a government—being forced to pray, for example. A violation of First Amendment rights is enough.
She lampoons this with,
This means people can silence their fellow citizens for no other reason than the fact that they were offended. (25)
No, the Constitution was offended. Since the Constitution gives us our rights in this country, that sounds like a big deal. I’m surprised that Palin doesn’t agree.
Her view on this battle is:
the [atheist] Scrooges flex their illegitimately gained legal muscles (39)
with no explanation for what is illegitimate. Her complaint is not that atheists are breaking any law but that they have lawsuits as options to get church/state errors redressed.
Sarah Palin v. Constitution
Sarah Palin was the ninth governor of Alaska and took this oath of office:
I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Alaska, and that I will faithfully discharge my duties as governor to the best of my ability.
One must then assume that she has read and is thoroughly familiar with the U.S. Constitution, though that assumption is tested throughout this book.
The First Amendment says in part, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Citizens can exercise religion freely, and government can’t make laws that interfere with that. Government doesn’t have a right to proselytize religion but citizens do. So how is it legal for a government to celebrate a Christian holiday (and only that holiday) on public land?As mayor, Palin defended a nativity scene on city property:
I was determined [the town of] Wasilla would not contribute to our [moral] decline but would instead acknowledge the Source of all good things in our life and our nation. (51)
This partisan stance sounds odd coming from a defender of the Constitution.
The Constitution calls the shots
When Christian soldiers feel put upon by the travails of living in a country governed by a secular constitution, Palin encourages them to remember,
Through it all, the God who created the heavens and the earth is sovereign. (57)
But, of course, she can believe that and write it and proclaim it to passersby in the public square because of and only because of the Constitution. The Constitution calls the shots in the United States, not the Bible.
What’s good for the goose …
About a Harvard plan to provide women-only gym time for Muslim women, Palin says,
We all appreciate religious liberty, but it should be liberty for all, not favoritism for some. (182)
She complains at length about thin-skinned atheists, but things apparently change when the shoe’s on the other foot. Is this an outrageously obvious double standard (special favors for Christians are okay, but not for Muslims) or am I missing something? That this doublethink would work with her audience says a lot about what she thinks of them.
Palin quotes a mayor fighting for the right to publicly support only Christmas:
I believe the Constitution deals with freedom of religion, and not freedom against religion or freedom to repress religion. (52)
Is this just a meaningless slogan or does Palin actually mean this? Prove it, Governor. Publicly state that the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of religion demands that public land be used for displays from all religions or none.
I propose an experiment. Every local U.S. city government that provided a public forum only for a Christian holiday in 2013 must avoid any such displays next year and must instead celebrate the Muslim Eid feast at the end of Ramadan on city property. Give it a try to see how that feels.
You think atheists overreact to a cross on public property? Great—show us your open mindedness by replacing it with a Muslim crescent moon and star. Then we’ll see who’s thin-skinned.
Hell in a handbasket: this is just the beginning, people!
In case Palin’s concerns seem to be overblown, with church/state separation the common-sense solution to allow everyone to get along, she fans the fires of paranoia:
Boiled down to its essence, the “war on Christmas” is the tip of the spear in a larger battle to secularize our culture and make true religious freedom a thing of America’s past. (10)
What is “true religious freedom”? If it’s your “right” to impose Christianity on the rest of us, you betcha I want that gone. But if it’s the ability for you and other Christians to believe and worship as you want and to speak your mind in the state-supported public square, unfettered by government, I want that as much as you do.
[The few malcontents with lawyers eager to wreak havoc] are a part of a larger, orchestrated attempt to strip our heritage from America. (52)
(Dang! Who leaked the Atheist Overthrow Manifesto?)
Uh, no. The “larger, orchestrated attempt” is to return respect to the Constitution. Show me an atheist who wants to deny Christians the right to worship in a way that hurts no one, and I’ll publicly state that I’m on your side. If the Jesus story is a good tiding that brings you great joy, that’s fine. Just don’t celebrate your story (and only your story) in front of my city hall.
The Anti-Defamation League’s guidelines help resolve the “December Dilemma”:
Ask yourself: does the display, in its setting, give the appearance of a government endorsement of a religious message? If yes, the display is impermissible.
Pretty simple advice. But there’s no book if you say that conspiracy fears are unfounded and that there’s an easy way for us all to get along. Conflict sells, not peace.
Conclusion: the Ugly.
Another happy soldier in the War on Christmas.
— Tom Flynn’s bumper sticker