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Conflicts at Christmas time / Religious cooperation:

House resolution giving Christmas a special
status to the exclusion of other holy days

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Sponsored link.


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Overview:

During 2005, Representative Jo Ann Davis (R-VA), supported by twenty-five Republican representatives, no Democrat and no Independent representatives, submitted House Resolution H. Res. 579 for debate and a vote. It is titled: "Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected."

During the debate, one Democratic member asked the Davis to amend the resolution to include the symbols of Chanukah and those of other religious and secular holidays celebrated at this time of year. She refused. Only Christianity and its symbols are to be protected. No similar protections or recognition are to be provided for Chanukah (Jews), Id al-Adha (Muslims between 2006 and 2008), Yule (Wiccans and other Neopagans), the Winter Solstice (Atheists and followers of many Aboriginal religions), Bodhi Day (Buddhists), etc. By passing this resolution, Christianity is elevated to preferred status and that all other religions, and secularism, is relegated to secondary status.

The principle being promoted by this resolution is that America was founded by Christians, that Christianity is the unofficial state religion, and that Christians are to be given special protections. This conflicts with the fact on the ground that the U.S. is the most religiously diverse nation on Earth. One cannot grant one religion special protections and privileges without adversely affecting the status, protections, and privileges of non-Christian religions.

The bill was passed on DEC-15 with an overwhelming vote: 401 in favor; 22 opposed; 5 "present."

In passing this resolution, the members of the House who voted for it appear to have violated the essence of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." They also appear to have violated their oath of office which includes a promise to uphold the Constitution. Of course, this is a resolution of the House, and not an actual law, so the violation of the Constitution and oath of office may only be in spirit if not also in fact.

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Text of the Resolution:

"Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected.

bulletWhereas Christmas is a national holiday celebrated on December 25; and
bulletWhereas the Framers intended that the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States would prohibit the establishment of religion, not prohibit any mention of religion or reference to God in civic dialog: Now, therefore, be it Resolved,
bulletThat the House of Representatives--
(1) recognizes the importance of the symbols and traditions of Christmas ;
(2) strongly disapproves of attempts to ban references to Christmas ; and
(3) expresses support for the use of these symbols and traditions, for those who celebrate Christmas."

The final five words "for those who celebrate Christmas" were not in the original resolution. They appear in the final version. 1

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Suggested amendment to the resolution:

During the debate in the House, Representative Israel (D-NY) suggested an amendment to include protection for the full range of religious and secular celebrations and observances at this time of year. He said:

"....I want to thank the gentlewoman for introducing this resolution. I actually share her view and understand her frustration when any government attempts to ban secular symbols like Santa Claus or Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer or Christmas lights. I do not believe that any community should ban those secular symbols as long as they do not choose one set of symbols over the other; as long as they are inclusive of all symbols."

"My difficulty with this resolution is that it excludes some symbols and includes only certain symbols. So I would ask the gentlewoman, in the spirit of diversity, and of the many faiths that we celebrate in this body and throughout America, I would ask her not to withdraw the resolution, but allow this resolution to attract a very significant number of votes, maybe a unanimous vote, simply by adding the words 'Kwanzaa,' 'Ramadan,' and 'Chanukah' to her resolution. Do not exclude certain symbols. Be inclusive of all....."

"So, Madam Speaker, I yield to the gentlewoman and ask her if she would change this resolution, change this language, include Chanukah, include Kwanzaa, include Ramadan, include holidays of all faiths so that this resolution can reflect the best of America, which is a place of justice for all."

The sponsor of the resolution, Jo Ann Davis (VA-R), rejected the suggestion, saying:

"I would say that the reason for this resolution is that the attack has not been on the menorah or any of the other symbols of the other religions. But the attack has been and is being made on red and green colors, on candy canes, on Santa Claus, which are not even religious symbols. That is the point of the resolution. And with that I will leave it the way the resolution stands."

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Statements made in the House:

bulletRep. Jon Porter (R-NV): "I rise today in support of H.R. 579, which would express the sense of the House of Representatives that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected. Each year during the month of December, thousands of homes across America are decorated with Christmas trees, lights and festive wreaths. Christmas is the most widely celebrated festival in the world, with traditions and customs that originated long ago and still are very much alive today. Christmas has long been for giving and sharing and for coming together with family and friends. The tradition is a celebration of the spirit of love which is what makes this holiday so popular throughout the world. I urge all Members to come together to support and protect the pastime and traditions of a holiday that many of us hold very dear."
bulletRep. Danny Davis (D-IL): "Though we have modern-day symbols of Christmas, Christmas is not only about beautifully decorated pine trees and gift-wrapped boxes that lie beneath them. Christmas is about goodwill and peace on Earth. It is about tolerance; it is about providing for the less fortunate among us. We cannot debate H. Res. 579 without considering how our policies address homelessness, the uninsured, the poor, the sick, and the suffering. Yes, we have Christmas symbols and traditions, but what do they really represent if we do not first embrace the spirit and true meaning of Christmas: love, peace, tolerance, compassion, goodwill, and hope for the future. Those are the true expressions of Christmas."
bulletRep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY): "There are people around who need an enemy at all times to try to separate us one from the other as Americans in order to advance their own agenda. I do not think we should be playing into their hands. Nobody is attacking Christmas or its symbols.... I am really very saddened by the fact that when given the opportunity to expand this resolution that the sponsor demurred. I am not sure why. If you do not know and you are saying that you want this to be what this is because yours is the religion that has its symbols under attack, when was the last time you walked into Wal-Mart and saw it saying 'Happy Chanukah?' When did you walk into Toys 'R Us and see it saying 'Happy Kwanzaa?' Does that give me the right to say that my religion is under attack, the symbols of my faith or the holiday I wish to celebrate are under attack? It is not, and I am not going to be a crybaby and say that it is. To tell the truth, it is slightly offensive to see people trying to create a war and claiming they are attacked just so that they go on the offense instead of the defense. This is a prefabricated issue that has no merit. Nobody is attacking the symbols of Christmas. Are you objecting to our wanting to be included because the symbols of your religion are more important than the symbols of anybody else's religion in America? Or is it because you think that the symbols of your religion are more official? That is the danger in what we are doing."
bulletRep. Jo Ann Davis (R-VA) -- sponsor: "...some may question the importance of this resolution in light of other national priorities that we are addressing this week, but this resolution is important because it defends the traditions of Christmas for those who celebrate Christmas. It is unfortunate that a congressional resolution is even needed to do this. It is unfortunate that we have had to come to this point. Christmas has been declared politically incorrect. Any sign or even mention of Christmas in public can lead to complaints, litigation, protest, and threats. America's favorite holiday is being twisted beyond recognition. The push towards a neutered 'holiday' season is stronger than ever so that no one can be even the slightest bit offended. Madam Speaker, overzealous civil liberties lawyers are making their list and checking it twice. Change the Christmas tree to a Friendship tree, check. Change 'We Wish You a Merry Christmas' to 'We Wish You a Happy Holiday,' check. Remove the colors green and red, check. Get rid of Christmas music, even instrumental, check. When did wishing someone a Merry Christmas show insensitivity? According to a recent poll, 96 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas. In an effort to create a generic holiday starting at Thanksgiving and ending at New Year's, what are we exactly celebrating? The purpose of celebrating the Fourth of July is to celebrate our Nation's independence. Why is it not reasonable to say that celebrating Christmas is a celebration of Christ's birth? This is a selective assault on religious free speech which is a fundamental right. The Founders did not view celebrating Christmas as an issue of church versus State. It is celebrating a holiday that has for thousands of years been celebrated. The framers intended that the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States would prohibit the establishment of religion, not prohibit any mention of religion or reference to God in civic dialogue. From Madison Avenue to Wall Street, from activists and lawyers to politicians, educators and the media, a culture is being created that shames people for saying Merry Christmas. Ironically, many retailers, the same group who flood our mailboxes with catalogs and advertisements urging us to purchase gifts for Christmas, have done away with the Christmas greeting Merry Christmas in their stores. Employees have been told not to say Merry Christmas to customers. This is political correctness run amok. The attack on Christmas, while not new, has now shifted its focus from overtly religious symbols, like the nativity, to symbols regarded by most Americans, including the Supreme Court, to be secular symbols of Christmas, a federally recognized holiday. Now these innocent secular symbols are causing concerns of insensitivity. Santa Claus, Christmas trees, candy canes, Christmas carols, even the colors red and green, they have been place on the endangered list. They say to boil a frog you have to do it gradually because if you throw it into boiling water, it will jump out; but if you put the frog in cold water and gradually turn up the heat, the frog will never know he is being boiled until it is too late, and I am afraid that is what is happening to us with our Christmas holiday. Madam Speaker, the transition to replace Christmas with this vague 'holiday season' is a gradual process that over the past few years has reached a new crescendo. Let us protect the symbols and traditions of Christmas for those who celebrate Christmas, or before we know it, we will be looking at a holiday season that represents nothing and celebrates anything. I for one do not want to surrender and let retailers, overzealous civil liberty lawyers, and the media make me feel guilty for wishing someone a Merry Christmas. For generations, Christmas has been a public expression of the celebration of the birth of Christ. I hope we can say that for many more years to come."
bulletEleanor Norton (D-DC): "....I cannot help but note the irony of a bill celebrating Christmas or its symbols coming on the floor in a session that has just destroyed Christmas for millions of poor people. I am going to make a request of this Member, because I know her and I respect her and I regard her as a friend. And as a Christian, I am going to ask her in the name of interfaith tolerance if she would withdraw this resolution because it is needlessly divisive, and I think she did not realize when she put it in how divisive it is. For example, the gentlewoman said Merry Christmas to you, Madam Speaker. I do not know what your background is. But I do not believe she would have said Merry Christmas to the gentleman from New York (Mr. ACKERMAN). And in a real sense, that sums up where our country has come simply to be tolerant of the fact that we are from many faiths, and we do not want to insult anybody. And I say to you that, far from references to Christmas needing to be supported, they are glorified, and we all know it. The notion of giving any aid and comport to the Fox campaign against 'happy holidays' would be funny if it were not so serious. Understand how 'happy holidays' developed. It developed out of a country, first and foremost, where there was rampant anti-Semitism. Now, of course, we have many more, we have many more religions and much more diversity. It developed simply out of a sensitivity, so we developed proxy language, and so everybody feels comfortable even when it is not your particular religious holiday. I am not going to go up to a brown-skinned person in a turban and say, merry Christmas. I think that it is more appropriate to say, happy holidays. Maybe the gentlewoman understands why this is important for people who, unlike her and unlike me, are not Christians. If you do not want to feel guilty for wishing someone merry Christmas, I do not want to feel guilty for saying happy holidays to someone whose religious background I do not know.
bulletRep. Bobby Scott (D-VA): ".... this resolution purports to protect the symbols of Christmas, but what really needs to be protected are not the symbols of Christmas, but rather the spirit of Christmas. The spirit of Christmas demands generosity and goodwill towards others. Instead of legislation that respects the spirit of Christmas, Congress in just these past few weeks has passed a budget that includes mean-spirited attacks on the least of us:
bulletFor those who are hungry, we are cutting food stamps.
bulletFor those who are sick, we are cutting Medicaid.
bulletFor those who are in prison, we are imposing senseless mandatory minimums.
bulletFor others we are ignoring increases in heating costs and cutting student loans.

At the same time we are cutting those programs to help the least of us, we are cutting taxes for the wealthiest in society. Madam Speaker, we ought to express our passion for Christmas through deeds, not words; and we should not be distracted from our responsibility to uphold the spirit of Christmas as we consider the effects our actions on the Federal budget will have on the least of us during this holiday season. For these reasons I oppose this resolution."

bulletRep Ginny Brown-Waite (R-FL). "....As Americans, we enjoy the freedom to practice our own faith. This heritage inspired the American tradition of respecting individuals in their right to practice their religion, regardless of faith. However, it seems that, in recent years, zealous liberals have tried to destroy this heritage. It all started when schools would no longer call their annual winter recess a Christmas break in order to be politically correct. Now, instead, there is a holiday break, in many instances thanks to actions of the ACLU, American Civil Liberties Union.

While this may be a valid point since various religions observe holidays around the same time, they would not stop there at the erosion. There is a war against Christmas. Our children cannot sing Christmas carols. They can only sing holiday tunes. And now, instead of a Christmas tree, advertising calls them holiday trees. There is no reason why we cannot honor and cherish the traditions of Christmas while also doing the same with Chanukah, Kwanzaa or any other valued religion celebrated in America. America should never single out a religion for the purposes of banning or looking down upon references to their holiday celebrations. That practice flies in the face of the principles that our Nation was founded on. Instead, we must treasure the traditions that remind us of our history and of our country while at the same time respecting Americans of different faiths. As such, I strongly support House Resolution 579 which recognizes and supports symbols and traditions of Christmas."
bulletRep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY): "....The bottom line is there was a good-faith effort made by [Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY)] to change 'recognizes the importance of the symbols and traditions of Christmas' to 'the symbols of Christmas and Chanukah,' and you said no. It was an attempt to change 'strongly disapproves of attempts to ban references to Christmas' to 'ban references to Christmas and Kwanzaa,' and you said no. It was a chance to take this and put it into the words that... [the resolution's sponsor] says that she intends. The question must be, why? For someone who does not celebrate Christmas, the question looms: Why? Why not say to someone who wants to make this inclusive that, indeed, we are going to make it inclusive? The symbols of Chanukah are not valuable? Sure, they are, I think. The symbols of Kwanzaa are not valuable to some? Sure, they are. I cannot imagine why the gentlewoman who is the sponsor of this, who says that she speaks from a sense of inclusion, would not want to include those. Are those not worthy of being protected? What is the message that is being sent?"
bulletRep. John Dingell (D-MI): "....I have a little poem:

'Twas the week before Christmas and all through the House,
no bills were passed `bout which Fox News could grouse.
Tax cuts for the wealthy were passed with great cheer,
so vacations in St. Barts soon should be near.

Katrina kids were all nestled snug in motel beds,
while visions of school and home danced in their heads.
In Iraq, our soldiers need supplies and a plan,
and nuclear weapons are being built in Iran.

Gas prices shot up, consumer confidence fell.
Americans feared we were in a fast track to ..... well.
Wait, we need a distraction, something divisive and wily,
a fabrication straight from the mouth of O'Reilly.

We will pretend Christmas is under attack,
hold a vote to save it, then pat ourselves on the back.
Silent Night, First Noel, Away in the Manger,
Wake up Congress, they're in no danger.

This time of year, we see Christmas everywhere we go,
From churches to homes to schools and, yes, even Costco.
What we have is an attempt to divide and destroy
when this is the season to unite us with joy.

At Christmastime, we're taught to unite.
We don't need a made-up reason to fight.
So on O'Reilly, on Hannity, on Coulter and those right-wing blogs.
You should sit back and relax, have a few egg nogs.

'Tis the holiday season; enjoy it a pinch.
With all our real problems, do we really need another Grinch?
So to my friends and my colleagues, I say with delight,
a Merry Christmas to all, and to Bill O'Reilly, happy holidays.
Ho, ho, ho. Merry Christmas."

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Reaction of the National Jewish Democratic Council:

National Jewish Democratic Council Executive Director Ira N. Forman said:

"Yes, Virginia... and North Carolina, Oklahoma, New Jersey and others... your GOP representatives believe in the imaginary 'war on Christmas,' and apparently they think this is the best use of Congress' time. And apparently they think nothing of pressing their Jewish House colleagues to actually cast a congressional vote in favor of Christian 'symbols and traditions,' and they refuse to offer the same supposed protections to the symbols of Chanukah. The House GOP will go to any length to erect a straw man for the sole purpose of knocking it down -- anything to avoid dealing with our country's all-too-real problems."

"In this case, House Republicans are adopting the talking points of the most extreme, most divisive far-right elements in today's society -- and making that agenda the work of the people's House. Aside from being a colossal waste of time, it's divisive, it excludes other practices and faiths, and it buys into the conservative fantasy that there's some war against the 95 percent of Americans (according to Gallup) who celebrate Christmas." 2

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References used:

  1. Text, statements, vote, etc. for H. Rep. 579 is at: http://thomas.loc.gov/
  2. "GOP House top priority? Christmas vote!," National Jewish Democratic Council, 2005-DEC-15, at: http://www.njdc.org/

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Site navigation:

Home > Religious information > Christmas >  here

Home > Christianity > Beliefs, practices, etc > Holy days > Christmas >  here

Home > Religious hatred & conflicts > Specific conflicts >  here

 Home page > Religious tolerance > Cooperation > here

 

 Home page > Spirituality menu > Religious tolerance > Cooperation > here

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Copyright 2005 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2005-DEC-19
Latest update: 2007-DEC-16
Author: B.A. Robinson

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