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Conflicts at Christmastime:

Brief descriptions of conflicts during 2004

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Examples of year 2004 conflicts:

The media reported a few instances of religious conflict as 2004-Christmas approached.

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Not so "Merry Christmas" for Macy's:

According to a newsletter from a conservative Christian group, Massachusetts Family Institute, (MFI) the "Committee to Save Merry Christmas" is promoting a boycott of stores that are part of the Federated Department Stores. This includes Macy’s. They are protesting the company's alleged decision to replace their employees' greeting “Merry Christmas” with what the MFI defines as "politically correct greetings." Manuel Zamorano, chairperson of the committee, wrote in a statement: "It’s the height of hypocrisy for a corporation to make tens of millions of dollars selling Christmas presents, yet coldly refuse to acknowledge Christmas...What’s the holiday all about, anyway? Politically correct phrases like 'Seasons Greetings' and 'Happy Holidays' are no substitute for the real thing." According to the MFI report: "The boycott was launched in May when new [Federated Department Stores'] Chairman Terry Lundgren did not respond to a follow-up letter sent by Zamorano. Zamorano expects his campaign to take several years to see results." The Committee cites the recent presidential election as showing that millions of Americans are offended by "political correctness." Federated Department Stores claims that it has no ban on such greetings, that that its store divisions can advertise as they see fit, and store clerks are free to wish any customer "Merry Christmas." Macy's says its ads commonly use the phrase. 1,2,3

The use of a generic greeting like "Happy Holidays" appears to be an attempt by Federated Department Stores to be responsive to the feelings of its minority customers. Some consider this a move towards inclusivity. Others dismiss such sensitivity to other's feelings as being political correct.
 

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Celebrating a secular Christmas in New Jersey public school systems:

The U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as requiring all government departments, including public school systems, to implement the principle of separation between church and state. This requires them to avoid promoting:

bulletOne religion over an other;
bulletA religious lifestyle over a secular lifestyle, or
bulletA secular lifestyle over a religious lifestyle.

The principle gives public schools two basic choices in this situation:
bulletTo include in its winter celebrations examples from a wide variety of religions, perhaps including Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Wicca, along with examples from secular sources, or
bulletTo delete all religious references from its celebrations. 4

Public school boards in New Jersey took both approaches in their winter pageants:

bulletThe board in Egg Harbor Township, NJ initially decided to remove the religious carol Silent Night from their holiday program for elementary schools after receiving a complaint from a parent. They reinstated the song after the complaint was withdrawn. The final program included songs:
bulletWith Christian content,
bulletFrom at least one non-Christian religion -- Judaism in recognition of Hanukkah, and
bulletCelebrating at least one secular festival -- Kwanzaa in recognition of African American history and culture.
bulletThe conservative Christian group, Family Research Council (FRC) described the policy of the South Orange/Maplewood School District in New Jersey. The school district's  superintendent explained that "rather than try to respond to all the various religions and try to balance them, it's best to stay away from that and simply have a nonreligious tone."  The school district has issued a statement suggesting that songs such as "Winter Wonderland" or "Frosty the Snowman" are suitable for classroom use. They also suggested that: "Music centered on peace is also a nice touch." But traditional carols with a religious content -- for example those which refer to the miraculous birth of the baby Jesus -- will not be sung. Some of the public have reacted negatively to the policy. 5 The Alliance Defense Fund is considering whether to challenge the school district's decision in court. Gary McCaleb, the group's senior counsel, said: "When these school boards start censoring Christ out of the holidays, they're on the wrong side of the Constitution. It's a kind of Orwellian doublespeak, in my mind." 4
 
bullet

Religious ban in Denver, CO parade:

The Downtown Denver Partnership of local businesses in Denver, CO sponsor an annual Parade of Lights in downtown Denver during early December. It typically draws about 375,000 spectators. They celebrated their 30th anniversary in 2004. It is alleged to be to be a privately funded celebration which has no affiliation with or sponsorship by, the municipal government.

Many privately funded groups and clubs have the constitutional right to reject individuals and groups from participating in their events and organizations. Some might consider their actions to be despicable; but courts have decided that they are legal. Examples are:
bulletThe St. Patrick's Day parade in New York has rejected participation by gays and lesbians;
bulletThe Boy Scouts of America excludes both Atheists and homosexuals as members;
bulletMany churches reject gays and lesbians as members, as candidates for ordination, and marriage ceremonies.
bulletIn the past, many country clubs rejected African-Americans and Jews as members. A few still do.

Being a private group, the Denver Parade of Lights apparently also has the right to accept or reject participants, using any rules that it seems reasonable.

A local mega-church, Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada, CO, had applied to enter their float which would have included Christian carolers and a "Merry Christmas" sign. The parade officials rejected the float, citing its rules which have prohibited religious or political displays for the past decade. Chapel pastor George Morrison discussed the ruling with the Rocky Mountain News. The City Council, parade organizers and one of the parade sponsors, KUSA-TV, received hundreds of complaints from the public related to the ruling.

An hour before the event was scheduled to start, hundreds of Christians independently held their own parade. As many as 1,000 carolers walked down the parade route, singing Christmas tunes such as "Joy to the World," "Silent Night," and "The First Noel." Some waved crosses and other Christian symbols.

Afterwards:

bulletJoanna Beasley, wife of another pastor at the Chapel said: "It was very peaceful. It went very well."
bulletMark Anderson, spokesman for the socially conservative group Rocky Mountain Family Council said that the parade organizers "...want to take advantage of the timing by having the parade at the same time as Christmas, but they're saying you can't have any Christians in it. Obviously, it has to do with Christmas or people wouldn't show up."
bulletJim Basey, president of the Downtown Denver Partnership said that the organizers would re-evaluate the rules for next year's parade.
bulletMike Norton, a former U.S. Attorney offered to represent Faith Bible Chapel in a free-speech lawsuit against the parade committee. He commented: "I don't know if Faith will sue over it, but if they did, they'd win easily."

Complicating the debate was the acceptance of a float sponsored by Two Spirits, a Native American group which, according to the Washington Post, "considers homosexuality to be holy." Some felt that this was a religiously-themed float and that the parade committee had broken its own rules by permitting it. 5,6
 

bullet

Petition in Terrebonne Parish, LA:

A local organization is raising a petition to add "Merry Christmas" to the "Season's Greetings sign on the main government building. They are also selling yard signs to individual citizens which say: "We believe in God. Merry Christmas."  1 One possible implication of the signs is to suggest that the non-Christian God in whom other theists believe, including Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Wiccans, etc., is a false God.
 

bullet

Ad encourages boycott of non-conforming stores in Raleigh, NC:

On the day after Thanksgiving in 2004, senior pastor Patrick Wooden Sr. of the Upper Room Church of God in Christ paid $ 7,600 to run a full-page ad in the Raleigh News and Observer. It urged Christians to boycott some local stores by only dealing with "...merchants who include the greeting Merry Christmas." Rev. Wooden Sr., pastor of the Raleigh church, said: "There is a revival taking place in our nation that is causing Christian and right-minded people to say 'Wait a minute. We've gone too far.' We're not going to allow the country to continue this downward spiral to the left."  Referring to local merchants, he said: "Our position is: If they want the gold, frankincense and myrrh, they should acknowledge the birth of the child." With an apparent reference to the desegregation demonstrations of the 1960s, he said: "There's one group of people who get bullied all the time, and that's Christians.  I know what it is like to be bullied. It is apartheid in reverse - the majority is being bullied by the minority."

Some comments:
bulletRev. Mark Creech of the Christian Action League of North Carolina said that  Conservative Christians are pushing back against  "the secularists or the humanists or the elitists. It's a cultural war. We are in the thick of it. It's not so much an attack on us. It's an attack on Christ."
bulletLocal citizen, Harriet Lasher, wrote a letter to the editor of the paper, saying in part: "What happened to the land that my parents, Eastern European immigrants, adopted as their beloved country - a country of fairness and tolerance?"
bulletJudah Segal, executive director of the Raleigh-Cary Jewish Federation, appears to have overlooked the boycott which is implicit in the church's advertisement, He hoped it was intended to "remind Christians that there is an essence to the holiday," not to shut out others. He continued: "We really respect and admire people who want to have religious content in their own holiday,"
bulletPhyllis Maultsby, owner of the Light Years Jewelry shop, said that religious pressure would not change the way she decorates her store for the season. She said: "I'm not going to be influenced, because we embrace diversity. I certainly would never want to feel like I was being bullied."
bulletEd Jones, president of the Greater Raleigh Merchants Association. agreed with the church's ad. He says that he is becoming more conscious than ever of "a conspiracy of leftist-leaning people that want to bring down traditional values in our country. I don't see anything to gain by offending others, but many of us are offended ourselves. I think we - the collective we - are allowing a small minority of people to rule our lives. I'm opposed to that." The cards that his wife bought state: "Happy Holidays." But Jones carefully inked "Merry Christmas" on each of them.
bulletIn an apparent reference to anti-semitic laws in Nazi Germany during the 1930s, the Rev. Jim Melnyk, associate rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Raleigh, wrote in a letter to the editor: "Why not simply require stores owned by Jews to put a gold star in their ads and on their storefronts?" 1,7
bulletMary Poole, editor of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin's editorial page wrote an article titled: "Christmas sentiments lie in deeds, not words. The holiday season can bring out the best and the worst in all of us."

She wrote, in part: "As earnest as the pastor's endeavor might be, Christmas in America has long been celebrated pluralistically, reflecting the nation's multicultural populace. Retailers, for their financial well-being, have grown more sensitive to this, many choosing the broader 'happy holidays' so as not to offend. Pastor Wooden and others like him are free to pull their patronage and make the post of piety's renewed political power. But they ought to consider that the thousands of dollars spent on pressuring merchants thorough high-profile advertising might be better used in subdued ministering, like feeding and clothing the impoverished in their communities. This person-to-person touch might not garner a gig on talk shows, but contains just as much power, maybe more, in spreading Christ's message." 8

bullet

Jerry Falwell: "We are winning the war:"

Reverend Jerry Falwell, founder of Moral Majority founder and national chairperson of the Faith and Values Coalition stated in his most recent sermon, to be broadcast on DEC-19 that: "We are winning the Christmas war." He thanked God for the "few conservatives" in the media. He said that:

"When we began the Christmas season this year, we were all very much aware that a war was being waged by the Christmas grinches -- the American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU], Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and other secularists, to steal Christmas from America. To not only take Christ out of Christmas, but to remove Christmas totally from the American scene. I am happy to announce today that we are winning the Christmas war. ..."

"Well, the fact is that lawyers today, over 3,000 of them in America -- Christian lawyers, constitution, conservative lawyers -- have offered their services at no charge, pro bono, to certain groups of constitution firms to do war with the ACLU, with the secularists, with Americans United, and all who hate Christ and want to drive God from the public square. ..."

"Imagine God raising up an army of attorneys, far more than the ACLU has, to stand up for religious freedom in America. This is a positive thing. It's an encouraging thing. Why do we always have to be on the defense? We have declared war on the left, and we're going to sue the hide off of everybody, everybody, who tries to inhibit the liberties of our children and our families from worshipping and honoring the Lord, as we in America are constitutionally allowed to do. ..." 12

bullet

Concern about lack of Christian content at the White House:

WorldNetDaily, a conservative Christian news source, expressed concern that Jesus is "virtually missing from the White House commemoration of Christmas..." The White House's website is without "even a single mention of Jesus." It does have a photograph of a nativity scene, but the baby Jesus is "virtually invisible." Although the site lists over a dozen secular Christmas songs, no Christian carols are mentioned. 9

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Examples of previous years' conflicts:

bullet

"Holiday Tree" reverts to a "Christmas Tree" in Toronto, ON:

Back in 2002, Mayor Mel Lastman of Toronto said that the 50-foot pine in Nathan Phillips Square has always been and always will be a Christmas tree. He said: "Our special events staff went too far with their political correctness when they called it a holiday tree. They were trying to be inclusive and their hearts were in the right place, but you can't be politically correct all the time. Let me set the record straight: Toronto has a Christmas Tree in Nathan Phillips Square, and everyone is invited to come out and enjoy it." He said that he intended to introduce a motion at a subsequent council meeting to ensure the tree is properly referred to in future City literature. 10
 

bullet

"Multicultural Tree" reverts to a "Christmas Tree" in Manitoba:

Manitoba's Premier, Gary Doer, stated that the legislature could "be inclusive without being silly" in response to Christmas. The comment came in response to the decorated spruce tree that sat in the Legislature Building's lobby which had, for the last 11 years, been called the "multicultural tree." Doer told the National Post, "If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it's not a flamingo." 11

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Cal Thomas, "Let the rest of us take back Christmas," 'On the Right Side' syndicated column, 2004-DEC-15.
  2. Allen Breed, "Christians Aiming to Boost Religion," Associated Press, 2004-DEC-14, at:
    http://start.earthlink.net
  3. "Not so 'Merry Christmas': Group boycotts Macy's," Massachusetts Family Institute, 2004-DEC-03.
  4. "Ban on Christmas carols sparks debate," CNN News, 2004-DEC-22, at:
    http://www.cnn.com/
  5. "Schools Take the 'Christ' out of Christmas--and Celebrate Ramadan," Family Research Council, Culture Facts, 2004-DEC-03.
  6. Valerie Richardson, "Carolers defy religious ban," Washington Post, 2004-DEC-05, at: http://washingtontimes.com/
  7. Ellen Barry, "This Season, Greetings Are at Issue," Los Angeles Times, 2004-DEC-18, at: http://www.truthout.org/
  8. Mary Poole "Christmas sentiments lie in deeds, not words," Honolulu Star Bulletin, 2004-DEC-25, Page A15..
  9. "Bush White House's Christ-less Christmas. Official commemorations emphasize Santa, Rudolph over Jesus in 2004," World Net Daily, at: http://www.worldnetdaily.com
  10. "It's A Christmas Tree: Mayor Mel," 2002-NOV-22, at: http://wx.toronto.ca/
  11. "Manitoba: Christmas trees are back, multicultural trees are out," National Post, Friday December 14, Page A13.
  12. "Falwell: 'We are winning the Christmas war'," MediaMatters for America, 2004-DEC-22, at: http://mediamatters.org/

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Copyright © 2004 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2004-DEC-04
Latest update: 2006-NOV-19
Author: B.A. Robinson

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