Tis the Season to be Offended
This is the time of year when news of people being offended by Christian symbols reaches a high point. Progressives view complaints about a “war on Christmas” as manufactured. Barack Obama commented on this in 2006:
This notion that's peddled by the religious right -- that they are oppressed -- is not true. Sometimes it's a cynical ploy to move their agenda ahead. The classic example being that somehow secularists are trying to eliminate Christmas, which strikes me as some kind of manufactured controversy.
Most of these “manufactured” offenses take place in schools, the media, the military, and government bureaucracies. When some of its more extreme examples are exposed to the public the first reaction is to deny they happened. It appears that the government is attempting to eradicate all mention of Christianity without drawing excessive attention to their program. Professor James Hitchcock has written, “Far from being neutral, the American government is now in the position of favoring unbelief over belief and irreligion over religion.” When there is media attention to their efforts and a strong reaction they tend to deny that they were establishing a new policy.
There are countless examples of government efforts to remove any reference to the Christian religion. A military diversity training officer instructed a group of U.S. soldiers at Camp Shelby, Miss., not to use the word "Christmas." This officer told the troops she was affirming Army rules. After the episode became public the Public Affairs Chief of the post explained, "There is no policy at the 158th Infantry Brigade, First Army Division East, or First Army that forbids using the word 'Christmas.'" It was all a misunderstanding.
The Veterans Administration has also stepped into the fray. When a group of children made homemade Christmas cards for patients in a Dallas VA hospital they were informed by a hospital spokesperson “We're thrilled to have them, except the only thing is, we can't accept anything that says ‘Merry Christmas' or ‘God bless you' or any scriptural references because of all the red tape.” A VA spokesperson quoted the Veterans Health Administration handbook:
"In order to be respectful of our veterans' religious beliefs, all donated holiday cards are reviewed by a multi-disciplinary team of staff led by chaplaincy services and determined if they are appropriate (non-religious) to freely distribute to patients. We regret this process was not fully explained to this group and apologize for any misunderstanding."
The Augusta VA hospital has banned some Christmas carols. Hospital spokesman Brian Rothwell announced, "VA policy is welcoming but respectful of all faiths and the protection of each veteran's right to religious freedom and protection from unwelcomed religious material, to their individual beliefs." Therefore, high school students from Augusta's Alleluia Community School were prohibited from singing such songs as "Silent Night" and "O Come All Ye Faithful". Even instrumental versions of religious music has been banned. A school superintendent banned an instrumental version of "Ave Maria" at a public school graduation. The chief of staff of Walter Reed National Medical Center banned family members from bringing Bibles to the facility. Col. Chuck Callahan’s memo stated, “No religious items (i.e., Bibles, reading materials and/or artifacts) are allowed to be given away or used during a visit.” After the memo became public the hospital released a statement saying that it was worded “improperly” and, “We apologize for any confusion the policy may have caused.” A memo from the Salem VA Medical Center states:
…Public areas may only be decorated in a manner that is celebratory of the winter season. Displays must not promote any religion. Please note that trees (regardless of the types of ornaments used) have been deemed to promote the Christian religion and will not be permitted in any public areas this year.
Efforts to suppress religious observations are not restricted to the holiday season. The Department of Veterans Affairs director of the Houston National Cemetery, Arleen Ocasio, banned saying God or Jesus at funerals. VA Press Secretary Josh Taylor responded, “The idea that invoking the name of God or Jesus is banned at VA national cemeteries is blatantly false.” However, this policy was observed by several witnesses, including Congressman John Culberson.
Fox News has reported that soldiers at Fort Hood were warned that donating money to evangelical Christian groups or Tea Party groups could result in military punishment. The report claims that an Army Reserve training brief listed Catholics and Evangelical Christians as examples of religious extremism. Training instructions designating religious groups as extremists led Army Secretary John McHugh to write the following memo:
On several occasions over the past few months, media accounts have highlighted instances of Army instructors supplementing programs of instruction and including information or material that is inaccurate, objectionable and otherwise inconsistent with current Army policy.
Examples of intolerance toward religion in the public school are too numerous to count. One example illustrates the technique used by educators to cover their tracks. A teacher in the Willis school district in Houston, Sara Flottman, allegedly confiscated two bibles from students and threw them in the trash. She also allegedly threatened to call Child Protective Service. A school district investigation claimed that the incident never occurred. However, the school’s credibility may be questioned. School Superintendent Kay Karr admitted that Flottman had mentioned calling CPS but that she had said it “in jest.” When disciplining students, it is not a time for humor, especially concerning such dire punishment.
The national Christmas holiday is gradually being replaced by a “Winter Celebration.” However, this may be too much of a reminder of the Christian holiday. Although it is not in the United States, Winnipeg, Canada, may give us a glimpse of the future. They have replaced their annual Winter Concert with an evening of African drumming.
John Dietrich is a freelance writer and the author of The Morgenthau Plan: Soviet Influence on American Postwar Policy, Algora Publishing, 2013. He blogs at http://johndietrichbooks.blogspot.com/