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The Christmas Wars / Christmas Dilemma

Events during 2006

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Sponsored link.

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Overview:

The conflict over Christmas in 2006 started to heat up well in advance of the holiday, as in past years. The root of the debate is a conflict over whether to acknowledge and value religious diversity in America:

bulletSome people regard late December as a multi-cultural time when North Americans should acknowledge the beliefs and practices of various religious faiths and secularists. These include Christians, Wiccans, Muslims, Jews, Atheists, secularists, etc., as they enjoy observing their unique seasonal days of celebration. They assert that they have nothing against observing Christmas. However, they want celebrations of other faith groups and unbelievers to be recognized as well.
bulletOthers believe that, among all of the religious and secular celebrations in late December, only a Christian celebration of Christmas should be acknowledged and recognized.
bulletStill others have a heightened concern about the separation of church and state during this season.

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2006-OCT: InterFaithFamily.org conducts survey:

InterFaithFamily.org publishes "helpful, welcoming articles about interfaith families exploring Jewish life. They conducted a December Holidays Survey during 2006-October among 759 people, most of whom were Jewish or had a Jewish partner. Some results:

bullet99% planned to celebrate Hanukkah.
bullet93% planned to exchange gifts at Hanukkah.
bullet89% planned to celebrate Christmas.
bullet78% plan to keep Hanukkah and Christmas celebrations separate.
bullet44% planned to decorate a Christmas tree.
bullet18% plan to attend Christmas religious services.
bullet5% planned to tell the Christmas story. 12

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NOV-09: USA: Wal-Mart restores "Merry Christmas" greeting:

Having suffered a loss of sales as a result of the 2005 boycott by the American Family Association, the Catholic League and other conservative Christian groups, Wal-Mart has decided to revert to the greeting "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays."

Wal-Mart spokesperson, Linda Blakley, told USA Today: "We, quite frankly, have learned a lesson from last year. We're not afraid to use the term 'Merry Christmas.' We'll use it early, and we'll use it often."

They plan to show TV ads starting in mid-November promote "Christmas." It's changing the name of its seasonal decorations department to "The Christmas Shop" from "The Holiday Shop." 2

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NOV-15: USA: Alliance Defense Fund mobilizes 950 attorneys:

On 2006-NOV-15, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) announced that it has over 950 attorneys available across the U.S. to combat the censorship of Christmas celebrations in schools and public property. However, they plan to fight only "improper attempts" to restrict celebrations. This implies that there are certain restrictions that are legitimate and required by the U.S. Constitution. ADF President Alan Sears said:

"Frankly, it's ridiculous that Americans have to think twice about whether it's okay to say Merry Christmas. Thanks to the ACLU and its allies, Christmas isn't what it used to be.  It's time to repair the damage that such organizations have done to America's favorite holiday.  An overwhelming majority of Americans oppose censoring Christmas. ... It's a sad day in America when you have to retain an attorney to wish someone a Merry Christmas.  The fear, intimidation, and disinformation spread by the ACLU and its allies over the years will not be changed overnight.  That's why ADF wants to dispel the myths about religious expression at Christmastime that have prompted wrongful acts of government censorship of religious speech."

In their news release, they appear to recognize that a simple, government-sponsored religious displays -- Christian or otherwise -- are not permitted, and that the content of displays must meet certain standards in order to be constitutional. They write:

"Often, the 'Three Reindeer Rule' is used by courts, whereby a judge reasons that having a sufficient number of secular objects in close enough proximity to the Christmas item (such as a crèche) renders the overall display as a constitutional community observance of the holiday." 1

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Mid November: WA: Rabbi asks for menorah at Seattle-Tacoma airport:

The origins of this story began in October. Mitchell Stein, a Jew, is a construction consultant for the Port of Seattle. He offered to supply the Port Authority with a large, 8 feet tall, menorah to be installed in the airport's international arrival hall. It would be located beside the many Christmas trees that the airport sets up each December. He was never able to get a clear answer from the airport staff about his request.

Orthodox Rabbi Bogomilsky attempted to resolve the issue. He had his attorney sent a letter to the Port Authority. The letter allegedly mentioned the possibility of a lawsuit if the menorah was not added to the seasonal display. He said:

"Everyone should have their spirit of the holiday. For many people the trees are the spirit of the holidays, and adding a menorah adds light to the season."

Airport staff decided that if they added a Jewish menorah, they would have to also be open to adding symbols of other religions and cultures in the area. But if they did not add the menorah, then they might be sued. They decided to resolve the problem by removing all of the Christmas trees and having no decoration for the holiday season.

Harvey Grad, Bogomilsky's lawyer, said:

"They've darkened the hall instead of turning the lights up. There is a concern here that the Jewish community will be portrayed as the Grinch [who stole Christmas]."

Airport maintenance workers removed the trees on early Saturday morning, DEC-09. Airport spokesperson Terri-Ann Betancourt said:

"We decided to take the trees down because we didn't want to be exclusive. We're trying to be thoughtful and respectful, and will review policies after the first of the year." 6

Later developments

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NOV-25: CO: Homemaker threatened with fine for Christmas wreath:

Lisa Jensen of Pagosa Springs, CO decided to decorate her house with a Christmas wreath. Showing innovation, she created a novel wreath in the form of a peace symbol, with a red ribbon at the bottom. Her homeowners association went ballistic. They called it "politically divisive" and a "symbol of Satanism." 3 The latter was a common view back in the late 20th century among conservative Christians. In fact, the peace symbol was derived from an overlapping of the two international semaphore symbols for the letter "N" and "D." The symbol was designed by Gerald Holtom for the UK Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament back in the 60s. The "N" and "D" stand for "nuclear disarmament." 4

Jensen was threatened with a $25.00 per day fine until she removed the wreath. She refused, saying:

"It seems whenever someone tries to say 'Peace on Earth' it is met with so much resistance. The incredible amount of support we have received over the last couple of days really is proof to us of how many people believe in peace and in our right to say it."

Hundreds of strangers offered to pay her fine.

She told the Associated Press her display was not political, saying:

"Peace is way bigger than not being at war. This is a spiritual thing."

Eric Rauch, who is opposed to the display, commented on the American Vision web site:

"It wasn’t that the association banned wreaths or outdoor decorations of any kind; they viewed Jensen’s wreath as a political—or even worse—a religious, statement. The peace wreath was deemed 'divisive,' and since the association 'doesn’t allow flags or signs that are considered divisive,' the obvious decision was to demand removal of the festive monstrosity."

"To her credit, Jensen was not put off by the association. A past president herself, Jensen knew her rights and stood her ground. She insisted the wreath was neither a political, anti-war statement nor a shrine to the 'evil one.' She said the wreath was simply a way to proclaim the hope that she shares with every Miss America contestant: world peace. After she received overwhelming support from the Pagosa Springs community, the homeowners association backed off and claimed that the whole affair was a misunderstanding. I guess it was … and it still is. By caving in and allowing the wreath to stay, the association is revealing just how out of touch they are with the rest of the country."

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NOV-28: Christian triumphalism doing well in Colorado:

In 2005-DEC, the council had refused the request of the Chabad Center of Northern Colorado to display a 9-foot-tall menorah next to a Christmas tree in its town square. Rabbi Gorelik of the Center was permitted to light the nine-branched candelabrum in Old Town Fort Collins, and then move it quickly to a local pub: CooperSmith's Pub & Brewing. It appears that the same arrangement will be implemented in 2006.

During 2006-JUL, Fort Collins' city council decided to limit seasonal displays to Christmas trees, wreaths and white lights. On NOV-28, a group of church leaders from the local Inter Faith Dialogue Group sent a letter to council noting that the city seems to be showing a bias in favor of only one religion -- Christianity. They suggested that the council either allow symbols of all faiths, or ban religious objects entirely. The council continued its previous policy.

Fort Collins Mayor Doug Hutchinson hopes the council will reconsider its decision and allow multi-faith displays. He said: "Great cities are inclusionsary and I hope Fort Collins becomes inclusionary."

Some members of council believe that Christmas Trees are not a Christian symbol, and that by allowing only Christmas trees, the city is thus banning all religious symbols. 14,15

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NOV-28: IL: Ad for a film "The Nativity Story" prohibited at Christmas festival: 

New Line Cinema prepared a short TV advertisement for its new movie "The Nativity Story." They arranged to have it continuously displayed at a downtown Christmas festival, the German Christkindmarket in Chicago, IL. The city banned the ad saying that it might offend non-Christians.

Paul Braoudakis, spokesperson for the Barrington, IL-based Willow Creek Association, a group of more than 11,000 churches of various denominations, said:

"The last time I checked, the first six letters of Christmas still spell out Christ. It's tantamount to celebrating Lincoln's birthday without talking about Abraham Lincoln."

Cindy Gatziolis, a spokesperson for the Mayor's Office of Special Events said that the city does not want to appear to endorse one religion over another.

"Our guidance was that this very prominently placed advertisement would not only be insensitive to the many people of different faiths who come to enjoy the market for its food and unique gifts, but also it would be contrary to acceptable advertising standards suggested to the many festivals holding events on Daley Plaza."]

Fox News, quoting Christina Kounelias, an executive vice president at New Line Cinema, reported that: ]

"Kounelias said she finds it hard to believe that non-Christians who attended something called Christkindlmarket would be surprised or offended by the presence of posters, brochures and other advertisements of the movie. 'One would assume that if (people) were to go to Christkindlmarket, they'd know it is about Christmas,' she said."

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DEC-08: DC: Annual White House holiday card doesn't mention Christmas:

For the second consecutive year, the White House's "holiday card" does not mention Christmas. 7

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Undated: Vision America petition to President Bush:

Vision America is a fundamentalist Christian group attempting to restore "the original American vision" by "mobilizing pastors and churches to win the war on Christianity." 8 They note that the ACLU and "activist' judge who enforce the First Amendment's separation of church and state have "assaulted" "public displays celebrating Christmas." We have never seen any evidence of such an assault, although the ACLU and other groups have often initiated lawsuits to have religions other than Christian represented at municipal and school displays at this time of year. Vision America has issued a petition to President Bush asking him to issue an executive order "prohibiting the federal enforcement of any court decisions that seek to remove Christ from Christmas." The effect would be to trigger a constitutional crisis between the executive branch. 9

Their web site sells printed cards to people who object to "Happy Holidays." They say:

"Like 90% of the American people, we celebrate Christmas in our home. Since businesses derive 20% of their annual income from Christmas Shopping, -- the greeting 'Merry Christmas' would be appreciated. Thank you for considering this request." 10

They also sell bumper stickers that say: "It's OK to say 'Merry Christmas'." 11

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2006-DEC-12: Christmas trees reinstalled at Seattle-Tacoma airport:

Officials at the Seattle-Tacoma airport learned on DEC-11 that Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky's organization would not file a lawsuit over the Christmas tree display. His lawyer, Harvey Grad, said: "We are not going to be the instrument by which the port holds Christmas hostage. He mentioned that the rabbi had received "all kinds of calls and e-mails," many of which were "odious." Local Jewish organizations also began receiving hate Emaikls. Bogomilsky wrote on behalf of Chabad of Greater Seattle:

"For many people, the Christmas tree is an important symbol of the season. Our goal was to include a menorah in the airport as well so that we could bring extra light with Hanukkah's universal message of hope. Our discussion of possible legal action was never about removing Christmas trees - it was about protecting the right to add menorahs."

Patricia Davis, president of the Port of Seattle commission, issued a statement saying that Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky:

"... never asked us to remove the trees; it was the port's decision based on what we knew at the time. ... A key element in moving forward will be to work with the rabbi and other members of the community to develop a plan for next year's holiday decorations at the airport."

Fourteen plastic Christmas trees, and zero menorahs were installed at the airport during the early morning of DEC-12. 13

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2006-DEC-19: The lucrative business of keeping Christ in Christmas:

Daniel Burke of the Religious News Service wrote an article about the financial benefits to conservative Christian groups who are fighting the Christmas War. He wopte:

"The Mississippi-based American Family Association says it has sold more than 500,000 buttons and 125,000 bumper stickers bearing the slogan 'Merry Christmas: It's Worth Saying'."

"The Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal aid group that boasts a network of some 900 lawyers standing ready to 'defend Christmas,' says it has moved about 20,000 'Christmas packs.' The packs, available for a suggested $29 donation, include a three-page legal memo and two lapel pins."

"And Liberty Counsel, a conservative law firm affiliated with the Rev. Jerry Falwell, says it has distributed for free 16,000 legal memos on celebrating Christmas."

"Leaders say demand for the goods—which are pitched online and through e-mail to supporters—is driven by what they view as a coordinated effort to secularize Christmas."

Alliance Defense Fund, American Family Association, James Dobson's Colorado-based Focus on the Family, and Concerned Women for America have banded together for a 2006 Christmas Project. Chief on its agenda is a list of 'nice' retailers that use the word 'Christmas' in their stores and catalogues and 'naughty' ones that do not.

" 'It's a way to fight back against the secular progressives and promote the real meaning of Christmas,' said Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association. 'They make a statement to anyone who looks at them and reads them that the person wearing them wants to keep Christ in Christmas'."

The AFA found the Christmas outreach so successful that they plan to make Easter buttons available this spring. 16

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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. "More than 950 attorneys nationwide ready to combat attempts to censor Christmas. Fourth annual Christmas Project declares, 'Merry Christmas. It's okay to say it'," Alliance Defense Fund, 2006-NOV-15, at: http://www.alliancedefensefund.org/
  2. "Wal-Mart: We're not afraid to say Merry Christmas. No. 1 retailer has decided to abandon its generic 'Happy Holidays' greeting in favor of 'Merry Christmas'," CNN Money, 2006-NOV-09, at: http://money.cnn.com/
  3. Eric Rauch, "Peace on Earth?," American Vision, 2006-NOV-30, at: http://www.americanvision.org/
  4. "Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  5. "Chicago Christmas Festival Nixes 'Nativity Story' Ads Over Fears of Offending Non-Christians," Fox News, 2006-NOV-28, at: http://www.foxnews.com/
  6. "Dispute leaves holiday travelers treeless in Seattle," Associated Press, 2006-DEC-11, at: http://www.cnn.com/
  7. Paul Bedard, "It's really a Hallmark." Washington Post, 2006-DEC-01, at: http://www.usnews.com/
  8. Vision America's web site is at: http://www.visionamerica.us/
  9. "Help protect Christmas in America," Vision America, at: https://secure2.convio.net/
  10. "Merry Christmas Request Cards," Vision America, at: https://secure2.convio.net/
  11. "Merry Christmas bumper stickers," Vision America, at: https://secure2.convio.net/
  12. Edmund Case and Micah Sachs, "What We Learned from the Third Annual December Holidays Survey," InterFaithFamily, at: http://www.interfaithfamily.com/
  13. Gene Johnson, "Christmas Trees Return to SeaTac Airport," Associated Press, 2006-DEC-12, at: http://news.lycos.com/
  14. Monte Whaley, "Ft. Collins menorah OK urged," Denver Post, 2006-NOV-28, at: http://www.denverpost.com/
  15. Monte Whaley, "A brief menorah display. Fort Collins allows only Christmas trees on public property. A Jewish group has gotten the OK to light the symbol of Hanukkah," Denver Post, 2006-DEC-05, at: http://www.denverpost.com/
  16. Daniel Burke, "Christmas Wars Prove Lucrative Fundraising Opportunity for Advocacy Groups,"
    posted on 2006-DEC-19 to: http://www.christianitytoday.com/

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Copyright © 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2006-NOV-19
Latest update: 2006-DEC-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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