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Religious Tolerance logo

The Christmas Wars / Christmas Dilemma

Events during 2008

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As in past years, the conflict over Christmas in 2008 started to heat up well in advance of the holiday.  The fundamental question is whether stores, public schools, municipal displays should:

bulletRecognize Christmas as the sole "reason for the season" -- the only acknowledged festival in late December, or
bulletRecognize the many religious and secular observances at this time of year of which Christmas is the most popular one.

That is, whether everyone should follow the traditional situation, or follow reality; exclusivism or inclusivism.

Are the Christmas wars winding down?

On 2008-DEC-29, we performed a crude analysis of the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) website by using their internal search function to find locations in their website containing the word "Christmas." 1 We then scanned the results, counting only those whose theme involved Christmas. The number of results, sorted by year were:

Year Number of hits
2002 2
2003 9
2004 39
2005 23
2006 13
2007 11
2008 3

We still have a few days to go into the year 2008. We will check back early in the new year to see if the ADF's references to Christmas conflicts did indeed peak in 2004 and decline ever since.

What are store employees really saying to customers?

According to a OneNewsNow.com poll, essentially all store employees are saying "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays." The former is the traditional greeting that was almost universal in the past when the U.S. was considered a Judeo-Christian country by the vast majority of Americans. The latter greeting is sensitive to the fact that increasing numbers of Americans observe other celebrations at this time of year: Yule, the Winter Solstice,  Hannukhah, Kwanzaa, Al-Hijra/Muharram, etc. [Al-Hijra/Muharram is the Muslim New Year, the beginning of the first lunar month. Holy days in Islam are scheduled according to a lunar calendar and thus differ from year to year.]

OneNewsNow.com conducted a poll among its web site's readers, which tend to be fundamentalist and other evangelical Protestants. The question was: "What greeting have you received most often from merchants during this Christmas season?" Results were:

bulletMerry Christmas: 47.7%
bulletHappy Holidays: 44.7%
bulletHappy Kwanzaa: 0.12%
bulletHappy Hanukkah: 0.02%
bulletNone of the above: 7.5% 2

We hope that OneNewsNow will repeat the poll in future years with the same question so that trends can be documented.


bullet2008-MAY-29: Court rules in 2007 case re schools in Wilson County, TN: Anonymous parents of a child in a Wilson County school launched a lawsuit with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The defendents were supported by the The goal was to eliminate religious content in the Lakeview School in six areas:
bulletPlaying of a song with a religious reference in honor of a three-year-old cancer victim.
bullet?See You at the Pole? student prayer event.
bulletNational Day of Prayer observances.
bulletMeetings on campus by the group Praying Parents.
bulletThanksgiving observances with religious references.
bulletChristmas observances with religious references. 3

The plaintiffs were not successful in eliminating these activities. However, the decision by Judge Robert L. Echols of the United States District Court for the Middle district of Tennessee, Nashville Division, was severely restricted in the way in which they organized, allowed, and presented these events, in accordance with previous court decisions in the U.S.

The court instructed the defendants, associated with the Lakeview School, to:
bulletBring their religious activities and practices into conformance with the policies specified by the Wilson County Board of Education.
bulletThe outside, non student group, Praying Parents are to be given precisely the same permissions and restrictions that other outside groups are given: no more and no less.
bulletTeaching in Kindergarten of the religious aspects of the origins of Thanksgiving and of the Pilgrim culture may continue, and include a generic prayer that is similar to that given by the Pilgrims. But the prayer is to be presented "...in an unbiased and objective manner without sectarian indoctrination." Parents are to be informed in advance and allowed to have their children excused from participating in the prayer blessing.
bullet"Lakeview School kindergarten teachers may include a nativity scene, accompanied by the singing of religious carols, in the annual Christmas program so long as the nativity scene is displayed as an example of the cultural and religious heritage of the holiday, the display is temporary
in nature, the display is presented in an unbiased and objective manner without sectarian indoctrination, the parents of kindergarten students are given express, advance notice of the inclusion of the nativity scene and the singing of religious carols in the annual Christmas program,  and parents of kindergarten students are given the opportunity to request in advance that a student be excused from participating in the nativity scene and the singing of religious carols."
bulletSchool employees are prohibited from organizing, promoting or attending a See You At The Pole? event or the National Day of Prayer event, with the exception of supervising students or property. "Flyers, signs, posters, notices or announcements ... must include a disclaimer that the Wilson County School System and the administration of the Lakeview School do not endorse or sponsor the events." The student sponsors must pay rent for any school equipment used. The "I Prayed" stickers are not to be worn by school employees during instructional time. 4

References used:

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

  1. The ADF website is at: http://www.alliancedefensefund.org
  2. OneNewsNow.com Poll, 2008, at: http://www.onenewsnow.com/
  3. "ACLU fails to silence religious expression in Wilson County schools
    Religious expression can and will continue despite ACLU efforts in lawsuit decided Thursday," ADF, 2008-MAY-30, at: http://www.alliancedefensefund.org/
  4. The text of the court's decision is at: http://www.telladf.org/ This is a PDF file.

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Copyright © 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2008-DEC-29
Latest update: 2008-DEC-30
Author: B.A. Robinson

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