December 7, 2005
By Fran Quigley
|Fran Quigley, Executive Director, Indiana Civil Liberties Union|
When the angry phone calls and emails started arriving at the office, I knew the holiday season was upon us. A typical message shouted that we at the American Civil Liberties Union are "horrible" and "we should be ashamed of ourselves," and then concluded with an incongruous and agitated "Merry Christmas."
We get this type of correspondence a lot, mostly in reaction to a well-organized attempt by extremist groups to demonize the ACLU, crush religious diversity, and make a few bucks in the process. Sadly, this self-interested effort is being promoted in the guise of defending Christmas.
For example, the Alliance Defense Fund celebrates the season with an "It's OK to say Merry Christmas" campaign, implying that the ACLU has challenged such holiday greetings. (As part of the effort, you can get a pamphlet and two Christmas pins for $29.)
The website WorldNetDaily touts a book claiming "a thorough and virulent anti-Christmas campaign is being waged today by liberal activists and ACLU fanatics." The site's magazine has suggested there will be ACLU efforts to remove "In God We Trust" from U.S. currency, fire military chaplains, and expunge all references to God in America's founding documents. (Learn more for just $19.95 . . . )
Of course, there is no "Merry Christmas" lawsuit, nor is there any ACLU litigation about U.S. currency, military chaplains, etc. But the facts are not important to these groups, because their real message is this: By protecting the freedom of Muslims, Jews, and other non-Christians through preventing government entanglement with religion, the ACLU is somehow infringing on the rights of those with majority religious beliefs.
In truth, it is these website Christians who are taking the Christ out of the season. Nowhere in the Sermon on the Mount did Jesus Christ ask that we celebrate His birth with narrow-mindedness and intolerance, especially for those who are already marginalized and persecuted. Instead, the New Testament—like the Torah and the Koran and countless other sacred texts—commands us to love our neighbor, and to comfort the sick and the imprisoned.
That's what the ACLU does. We live in a country filled with people who are sick and disabled, people who are imprisoned, and people who hunger and thirst for justice. Those people come to our Indiana offices for help, at a rate of several hundred a week, usually because they have nowhere else to turn. The least of our brothers and sisters sure aren't getting any help from the Alliance Defense Fund or WorldNet Daily. So, as often as we can, ACLU secures justice for those folks who Jesus worried for the most.
As part of our justice mission, we work hard to protect the rights of free religious expression for all people, including Christians. For example, we recently defended the First Amendment rights of a Baptist minister to preach his message on public streets in southern Indiana. The ACLU intervened on behalf of a Christian valedictorian in a Michigan high school, which agreed to stop censoring religious yearbook entries, and supported the rights of Iowa students to distribute Christian literature at their school.
There are many more examples, because the ACLU is committed to preserving the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom for all. We agree with the U.S. Supreme Court's firm rulings that this freedom means that children who grow up in non-Christian homes should not be made to feel like outsiders in their own community's courthouse, legislature or public schoolhouse.
To our "Merry Christmas" correspondents and all other Hoosiers, we wish you happy holidays.
Fran Quigley is executive director of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, www.iclu.org. As of January 1, 2006, the organization is changing its name to ACLU of Indiana.