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It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christ-Mess

Jeremy Gunn,
Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief
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December 10, 2008

I remember, as a child, being warned about “people trying to take ‘Christ’ out of ‘Christmas.'”

Nowadays we have been warned that there is a “war on Christmas.”

Oddly enough, some of those culture warriors who have volunteered to protect the holiday turn out to be people who are themselves taking “Christ” out of “Christmas.” In fact, they seem to be promoting Pagan symbols in the guise of Christianity. (I suspect that Pagans are not particularly happy about this trademark infringement.)

But before considering this tale of the pretended war on Christmas — “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” — we must ask whether the controversy has anything to do with civil liberties, or the ACLU.

And the answer is: “It depends.”

To the extent that people are concerned about what Christmas should or should not mean (whether for themselves, their families, or their religious communities), such concerns, beliefs, and expressions are all part of protected speech and religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution — and the ACLU actively works to ensure that those rights remain protected.

But some want to go beyond simply deciding what “Christmas” should mean, they want the government to adopt and promote their religious viewpoints — even when they are promoting Pagan symbols in the name of Christianity.

It’s going too far to demand that the government use its powers to promote anyone’s particular religious beliefs.

Take for example one of the generals in this battle, John Gibson, whose book The War on Christians has done a great deal to promote Paganism in the guise of defending traditional Christmas. Check out this remarkable statement in which he suggests he wants to protect

normal and traditional Christmas representations such as Christmas trees, Santa Claus, treetop stars, wreaths, the singing of and listening to Christmas carols or Christmas instrumental music, attending a performance of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol …. (emphasis added)

“Normal and traditional”? It seems that General Gibson wants to destroy Christmas in order to save it!

Take a look at the new ACLU web pages on Christmas where we look into some of these “normal and traditional” expressions, including Santa Claus, evergreens and decorations, and that story about some very unbiblical “ghosts” who haunt Christmas Eve in A Christmas Carol.

In fact, John Gibson is so eager to defend Christmas that he’s willing to take Christ out of it.

There is a simple and easy solution to all of this. Let John Gibson and his cohorts believe whatever they want to believe and let all other religious people and nonreligious people decide for themselves what symbols should mean and which are sacred and which are not. But let’s keep the government out of the business of deciding which beliefs and symbols are sacred, and using its powers to promote Gibson’s interpretation or mine.

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