November 19, 2005
Why the left fears ChristmasBy Bookworm
As the Christmas season nears, we can anticipate a flurry of news stories about townships here and cities there, all of which are trying their darndest to avoid the idea of Christmas. Some will substitute entirely nondenominational 'winter celebrations;' others will invoke Native American or Pagan spirits; others will do an ecumenical melange of celebrations by dressing Santa in a yarmalkah and Kwanza colors; and still others will take the joking way out, and do a Seinfeldian 'Festivus.'
Each community, whatever option it chooses, will think it's properly complying with its First Amendment obligations. And each community, I believe, will be violating both the letter and spirit of the First Amendment's freedoms of religion and speech.
The First Amendment is not complex. Its entire view on the nexus between religion and government appears in two short clauses:
That's it. (And of course, the Fourteenth Amendment extends this Clause's reach to State governments.)
It doesn't take a Ph.D in grammar or history to understand these simple words. The language, on its face, patently means that a branch of the Government (federal or local) may not create a state religion. After all, when the Founders wrote this Amendment, they were a 'mere' 150 years away from Henry VIII's decision to create his own church — with himself as leader — and impose its primacy on all English subjects, whether they wanted it or not. Those who didn't want it suffered greatly (or emigrated to America).
Because Church and State were inextricably intertwined, disbelief was punished in the same way as treason: with death. Even when the death penalty become a thing of the past for therological infractions, dissenters, Catholics, Jews, Hindus, etc., continued to labor under profound social and legal disabilities.
Revolutionary Americans still labored under these same handicaps and, indeed, in Article VI explicitly ended the pernicious habit of requiring Church of England Sacraments — or any professions of faith — as a precondition for government employment.
The Founding Fathers therefore knew first hand, and through their own history, that religion, while an important social control, can, if co—opted by government, further tyranny. It's scarcely surprising, therefore, that the Bill of Rights seeks to curtail the two religious sins the Founders knew a government can commit: our American governments cannot create a religion, and they cannot discriminate against any religion.
Significantly, these two government ukases are paired, in the same Amendment with one of the greatest freedoms a government has ever granted its citizens:
I don't mention this clause here because I'm trying to tie civic Christmas celebrations in with free speech issues. I mention it because the Founders believed American citizens — free citizens — to be capable of a certain mental toughness that would enable them to articulate their own belief systems and, if need be, defend themselves verbally against systems with which they disagreed. Americans are not to be coddled in the land of ideas.
And yet that is precisely what is happening now with the Left's relentless attack on banal civic celebrations of a generic America Christmas that has been, for decades, bleached of any religious sensibility.
Thus, I believe that the current attack on this American Christmas reflects the Left's undemocratic impulse to suppress information with which it disagrees (the information in this case being about the existence of religion). The same impulse appears in the Left's repeated attempts to prevent military recruiters
The inchoate, unspoken fear, then, that lurks behind the Left's relentless attacks on Christmas is that somewhere, somehow, someone is going to see a department store Santa in a city parade or a cheesy creche under a tree by a courthouse, and is then going to rush off screaming to join the nearest church. This extreme fear may be unsurprising, of course, when you have the ACLU and (sadly) the ADL busy painting America as the Christian equivalent of Saudi Arabia — the same Saudi Arabia that makes it illegal to practice any religion but Islam , that recently sentenced a teacher to 40 months in prison and 750 lashings for praising Judiasm and the Bible, and that let school girls burn to death rather than risk having their faces appear on the street.
In a true Democracy, there is a fine line between a majority that respects its minority sensibilities, and one that allows them to dictate terms to the majority.
By the way, I know of what I speak, since I'm Jewish, and grew up during the 1960s and 1970s. In those days, there was nothing wrong with Christmas celebrations and Christmas carols at public schools. At school, I happily memorized the words to Silent Night, Santa Claus is Coming to Town,
Bookworm is a lawyer and the properietor of the blog Bookworm Room.