[...] one can in fact offer Christmas greetings without legal counsel. Christmas trees are permitted in public schools. (They're considered secular symbols.) Nativity scenes are allowed on public property, although if the government erects one, it has to be part of a larger display that also includes other, secular signs of the holiday season, or displays referring to other religions. (The operative Supreme Court precedent is 1984's Lynch v. Donnelly, where the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that a city-sponsored Christmas display including a crèche, reindeer, a Christmas tree, candy-striped poles and a banner that read "Seasons Greetings" was permissible. "The display is sponsored by the city to celebrate the Holiday and to depict the origins of that Holiday," the majority wrote. "These are legitimate secular purposes.") Students are allowed to distribute religious holiday cards and literature in school. If the administration tries to stop them, the ACLU will step in to defend the students' free-speech rights, as they did in 2003 when teenagers in Massachusetts were suspended for passing out candy canes with Christian messages.
In fact, there is no war on Christmas. What there is, rather, is a burgeoning myth of a war on Christmas, assembled out of old reactionary tropes, urban legends, exaggerated anecdotes and increasingly organized hostility to the American Civil Liberties Union. It's a myth that can be self-fulfilling, as school board members and local politicians believe the false conservative claim that they can't celebrate Christmas without getting sued by the ACLU and thus jettison beloved traditions, enraging citizens and perpetuating a potent culture-war meme. This in turn furthers the myth of an anti-Christmas conspiracy.
In fact, if you search the ACLU's web site for "Christmas" you find several press releases about the ACLU standing up for people's rights to celebrate.
Goldberg goes on to say:
In order to prove this conspiracy, Gibson, O'Reilly and others like them gather anecdotes from around the country of officials putting petty restrictions on the speech of aggrieved Christians. Some of these are exaggerated, some legitimate, but none support their paranoid claims of a vast secular-humanist conspiracy.So is it all overstated? Just a few incidents pulled from across the country? I don't think so. Here is Columbus, Ohio both the official city and state trees are "Holiday Trees". Here is the official press release for the City's tree lighting.
By tradition, the busy elves at Columbus Recreation and Parks annually produce the City Hall Holiday Display and Tree Lighting Ceremony for the citizens of Columbus. City Hall Square is aglow with thousands of miniature white lights that accentuate the city’s holiday tree and seasonal display. The ceremony features a performance from the Columbus Children’s Choir, and culminates with the Mayor, City Council, and friends throwing the “official” switch, signaling Santa Claus' grand arrival.
Join Columbus City Officials at 5:00 P.M. on Tuesday, November 29, at City Hall as they kick off the holiday season with the lighting of the City Hall Holiday Tree. This annual tradition unites Columbus residents in recognition of the season of giving and celebrates the efforts of the Columbus business community to make downtown your family's destination for the holidays. City Hall is located at Broad and Front Streets with parking nearby
So in Columbus, at least, it is a "Holiday Tree". The state house banished Christmas years ago. I remember an attempt at bringing people downtown in the mid-1990s. They had a stage show, displays, and light effects that projected a train onto the state house while projecting candles onto the pillars. A candle was as close as they got to any traditional Christmas symbol and the word itself was never spoken.
Even further back my sister-in-law, a Columbus school teacher, said that they had been told not to call it a "Christmas break". She said that the teachers were singing "We wish you a merry winter holiday...".
When she was in grade school, my daughter came home with a song about Chirstmas and Hanukah being the same, "they're both the winter holiday".
As Goldberg points out, none of this is required. Public officials simply think that they have to act this way. They think so because the ACLU does in fact try to eliminate a lot of Christmas trapings from public life. The Canada Free Press says:
None of these cases appear on the ACLU's own web site search. They cherry picked cases that make themselves look good and hide the others. Remember, this is an organization that has at least one full time employee devoted to removing religious symbols from municipal seals.
The good news is that the ACLU has backed down and has lost some of its legal cases to eliminate "Christmas" from our vocabulary. In August of this year, the Bossier Parish School District in Louisiana shut down an ACLU attack, and in July a panel of the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit unanimously ruled that a woman who brought a suit against Christmas displays in Cranston, Rhode Island, had no standing to bring her claim. There are a score of other victories that the ADF has had throughout the nation.
Then there is the corporate policy of stores such as Walmart and Target where employees are instructed to tell shoppers "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas". Walmart went a bit too far with this earlier this year when a search for "Christmas" on its web page informed you that you were being redirected to their "holiday page".
With the news media hitting us over the head with updates on "Black Friday" and "Cyber Monday", you would think that the stores might want to remind you why you are giving them so much of your money.
With local examples so easy to find, an individual can be excused for thinking that there is some sort of attack on Christmas. Is it a conspiracy?
In order to qualify as a conspiracy the attack has to be planned and coordinated. I don't think that either condition exists.
What is happening instead is two separate but intertwined trends. The first is that there is an effort by secular liberals to remove religion from public spaces as much as possible. This includes the ACLU attacks on any sort of religious item in a municipal Christmas display. It also includes a genuine effort to be inclusive to non-Christians.
Mainly, though, it revolved around an attempt to emulate European-style secularism. In modern Europe any public display of religion is considered bad taste. The French claim that there, everyone is Catholic and no one believes (somehow this slogan misses the 10% muslum population).
These people ARE attacking parts of Christmas. It is not coordinated and most of them would deny that it is an attack.
The other trend at work is people trying to keep a low profile. In the Christmas version of zero-tollerance, they have decided that it is easest to eliminate all references to Christmas. This probably accounts for most of the assault on Christmas with the multi-culturists coming in second.
How ironic that it is people who are attempting to offend no one are offending lots of people.
On the bright side, Washington, DC just changed their tree back to a Christmas tree.