Christians should not show timidity in cultural disputes over traditional Christmas songs, displays and Nativity scenes, the head of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights says. He charges such disputes are contrived by a small set of “mean-spirited people” who wrongly insinuate that many non-Christians are offended by Christmas.
Many reports surface each year regarding local governments putting restrictions on traditional Christmas displays, and Christmas 2009 is no exception.
A life-sized crèche was displayed for about 50 years in the public square of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. However, this year the display has been banned because one man said he wanted to have a sign which read “Celebrating Solstice – Honoring Atheist War Veterans” to accompany the manger.
Leesburg, Virginia has banned its traditional display of a crèche, menorah and a Christmas tree. A Nativity scene which since World War II has been displayed on the grounds of the Manitowoc County Courthouse in Wisconsin will also be absent.
A Manchester, Massachusetts woman was told she could not have a live nativity scene outside her church because it sits on the town commons. A menorah in a Nashville park was approved by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) but the crèche in Clarksville, Tennessee was not because the city paid $200 for the animals used in the scene.
The Capitol building in Olympia, Washington has barred all holiday displays.
Catholic League President Bill Donohue particularly noted that the West Chester, Pennsylvania Court House has created new rules allowing four holiday displays for a limited period of time if they are “content-netural” in their message.
“But symbols—religious or secular—are by their very nature content-specific, thus making the request positively oxymoronic,” Donohue said in a Monday press release.
CNA spoke with Donohue in a Tuesday phone interview. He said that the “War on Christmas” largely began with the Catholic League’s successful efforts to place a Nativity scene in the same New York City public park which hosted the world’s largest menorah.
The Catholic League also sued the City of New York because miniature menorahs were displayed in public schools but Christian symbols were not.
The hostility towards Christmas is no longer only from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Donohue said. Rather, the ACLU has been “eclipsed” by the Freedom from Religion Foundation. He charged that the group is “increasingly aggressive” in trying to “neuter the meaning of Christmas by putting up anti-religious (read: anti-Christian) posters and displays.”
Donohue contrasted this behavior with the actions of the American Humanist Association, which in his view puts up more positive signs that do not denigrate religion.
He described a number of different tactics being used to suppress Christian symbols at Christmastime. The legal strategy to bar Nativity scenes from public property was prominent in the 1980s and early 1990s but has now “exhausted itself.”
Asked by CNA about whether anti-Christmas incidents have increased or decreased, Donohue reported that biggest change is not the volume but “the diversity of tactics.”
This shift to a “cultural strategy” has generated a “contrived competition” with Christmas that takes place every December.
Disputes about Christmas displays, he charged, are “contrived by elitists of a secular mindset.” They are “bringing forth every possible secular holiday that might fall in December and trying to give it equal billing with Christmas.”
According to Donohue, many Jews will acknowledge that Hanukkah is a minor holiday. He added that the Hindus he knows celebrate Christmas as part of being Americans.
“Now in the workplace, in the schools, we have to be ever-conscious of offending people who are not Christians,” he charged.
Donohue blamed this situation on the “language police” and diversity consultants, whom he claimed to be part of a $1 billion industry active in the private and public workplace.
“These people are the ones selling the propaganda that non-Christians are offended by Christian symbols in December. There is no evidence to this,” he said, reporting that about 96 percent of Americans do not object to Christmas displays or greetings.
He blamed Christmas disputes on “a very small percentage of mean-spirited people year after year.”
He suggested Catholics respond to the suppression of Christmas displays by filing lawsuits or showing up at town hall meetings and school board meetings when the displays become an issue.
“Christians should not be accepting of a secular symbol for Christmas, the tree, when religious symbols, like the star and crescent or menorah are allowed in the same setting,” he commented. “Christians have been far too timid and shown far too much reticence. The problem is with the objectors, not those celebrating.”
In the Catholic League’s press release Donohue also pointed out positive signs. The Christmas Boat Parade in Patchogue, Long Island undid last year’s name change to a Holiday Boat Parade. The Capitol’s Christmas tree this year will not be a generically named Holiday Tree. And a Colorado sheriff is allowing crèches and menorahs and selling shirts reading “Lighten Up. Just say ‘Merry Christmas’.”