Monday, November 22, 2010

Of Course You Realize This Means War!

I'd been wondering vaguely when the first salvo would be fired, and then I came across this photoblog post. The War on Christmas Season is once again upon us! (And we haven't even had Thanksgiving yet.) There's also a link to this subliterate piece by a writer for Advertising Age, on how "Happy Holidays" has been relegated to the dustbin of history, comrades.

According to its caption, the photo above depicts
Michael Godsey, front, and his wife Deanna, portray Joseph and Mary with the baby Jesus, in front of Christian activists during a live Christmas nativity scene procession outside the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, Nov. 22, 2010. Faith Action, a Christian organization, staged the demonstration to illustrate that such displays are protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Eight adult actors in biblical costume, two camels and one donkey took part in the scene.
I could have sworn the person carrying the baby Jesus in the procession was another man, and the term "adult actors" (no doubt fresh from a teabagging scene) took me aback for a moment too. The blog post, by one Robert Hood, who styles himself "a news photographer", is no better:
Religious displays on public property have been argued over for decades. The establishment clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” However, it also says Congress can’t impede the free exercise of religion, nor can it infringe on the freedom of speech. So, understandably there is considerable confusion around this issue.
And this post does nothing to dispel the confusion. In fact, it seems intended to increase it:
What do you think? Should Christmas be a federal holiday? Should religious displays be allowed on public property? If allowed, should we make distinctions between religions? If Christians can set up a Jesus manger on public property, can a coven perform Wiccan rituals on the steps of city hall? Am I favoring a religion if I participate in a Christmas giving tree, or am I helping a family during what would otherwise be a terribly painful morning on December 25th?
I wouldn't object to Christmas being a federal holiday if so many conservative Christians hadn't had hissyfits over the creation of federal holidays like Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday. Suppose there were a move to make some Muslim holiday (or, to use Hood's example, a Wiccan holiday) into a federal holiday; does anyone think that reactionary Christians would accept it as being on a par with Christmas? Believers should be, and as far as I know, are allowed to make "religious displays on public property" on their own initiative, and of course a coven should be allowed to perform Wiccan rituals on the steps of City Hall. If Hood participates in a Christmas giving tree, if he wants to 'favor a religion', that's his business as a private citizen -- why does he pretend it has anything to do with the First Amendment? I don't suppose there'd be any problem with, say, the workers at a Bureau of Motor Vehicles Office deciding to organize a giving tree. If the government at any level organizes charity, though, that is socialism according to the Christian frothers -- unless, apparently, it's done in the context of Christmas to undermine the wall of separation between religion and government.

Of course a procession like Faith Action's is protected by the First Amendment. But that has nothing to do with "religious displays" initiated and funded by the government. Would-be theocrats are always trying to get their cult of choice supported by the state, whether by getting it to set up Nativity displays for Christmas, official days of thanksgiving (though not of fasting -- that's so yesteryear), official prayers in school, and God all over government media ("In God We Trust" on money, which is fine if you put your trust in Mammon, "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, and so on). I'm not offended by these acts in themselves. What bothers me is that they are intended to get the camel's nose into the tent, by creating legal precedents for an official establishment of religion, which can then be built on and extended.

Why would a church want to set up a creche on "public property" anyway? The only thing I can think of is that they want to make it look like our government -- which under the Constitution is godless, and for very good reason -- has an official religion. Considering the hysteria ginned up by essentially the same people over the building of a Muslim community center, including a prayer room, on private property in New York City, and over the building of mosques, also on private property, around the country, it's pretty clear what these people want to do: they want official Christian supremacy in the United States. They already have freedom of religion, but they want to be able to impose their religion on others, and make us pay for its expression on the public dime.

There are ambiguities in the law, and room for disagreement about how to resolve them. But the Christian theocrats prefer to throw out red herrings, and as Hood's post shows, there are plenty of people who will take them for serious discussion.