Religion & Public Life
Your link can go here
Your link can go here

Merry Chr- … Hol- … Solstice?


Update on the Christmas ‘culture wars’

By Bruce T. Murray
Author, Religious Liberty in America: The First Amendment in Historical and Contemporary Perspective

Arguing about religious symbols in public places is never out of season in America, especially during the Christmas holidays. The yuletide “culture wars” have produced a steady stream of news flashes this year:

  • In Santa Monica, Calif., the traditional holiday nativity displays in Palisades Park have been largely replaced by atheist slogans and secular messages, such as “Happy Solstice” and “Religions are all alike – founded upon fables.”  Every Christmas season for almost 60 years, a local church coalition filled the park with life-size nativity dioramas. But this year the city implemented a new lottery system for allocation of space in the park. The atheists won most of the 21 slots, leaving only two spaces for the nativity story.

  • At a post office in Silver Spring, Md., a postal manager reportedly silenced three Christmas carolers, telling the trio that their activities were prohibited on government property. A Postal Service spokesman later clarified that the carolers violated USPS rules on “public assembly and public address.”

  • In a broader issue, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit recently declined to rehear the case of Trunk v. City of San Diego – in which the Court ruled that a 43-foot cross atop Mt. Soledad is an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion. The Court’s decision will likely result in an appeal to the Supreme Court.

  • And in Montana, a statue of Jesus overlooking the Whitefish Mountain Resort has caught the attention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which is fighting for its removal. Opposition to the Jesus monument has sparked counter-opposition: Supporters of the statue organized an “Occupy Big Mountain” rally, and Congressman Denny Rehberg, a Montana Republican, is campaigning to keep the statue.

These developments are part of the larger, longstanding “culture wars” in America, pitting those who favor greater inclusion of religious expression in public life against those who favor secularization and a strict separation of church and state. Although some of the current controversies may seem trivial or even silly, the stakes in the broader struggle are high: Whose religion, values or ideology will dominate the national culture?

Read more about Christmas and the culture wars here, and see the Web Sage news digest on religion and the First Amendment.

Further Reading

Rabbi Michael Gotlieb on nativity scenes

“Santa Monica, where I live and serve a congregation, is less festive, bright and accepting this Christmas season. And given my city's current municipal policy — one that forbids the use of public land for any outward religious expression, even for something as non-threatening and temporary as a Nativity scene — I suspect it will remain that way for a long time. Sadly, we are all — Jew, Christian and, yes, atheist — poorer for it.” — Los Angeles Times, Dec. 11, 2012

Update on the Santa Monica nativity displays

Federal judge upholds bans on the displays; Christian groups move displays to private property.

The war over Christmas: Who’s fighting and why?

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Christmas war — or so the culture warriors would have us believe. It’s all about 'happy holidays' vs. 'Merry Christmas' — the politically correct vs. the religiously correct. One side goes too far by renaming the Christmas trees, while the other side goes overboard by attacking people who thought they were just being nice. This year the Christmas crusaders appear to be winning: Holiday is out, Christmas is in.” — Charles C. Haynes, First Amendment Center senior scholar, Dec. 11, 2005

To end Christmas wars, separate secular from sacred

“Instead of resenting the name change, Christians should welcome the pop-culture conversion of the shopping-mall 'Christmas' to 'holiday' as an opportunity to recover what has been lost. Let’s end the Christmas wars by rendering Santa unto Caesar — and Christmas unto Christ.” — Charles C. Haynes, Director, Religious Freedom Education Project, Dec. 19, 2010

Merry fill-in-the-blank: fighting over the December dilemma

“If we hope to get beyond this conflict, we’ll need to get beyond both of these failed approaches. Using government to promote Christianity or any religion is unconstitutional and unjust. But excluding Christianity or any religion from the public square, including the public schools, is unfair (and, when individual rights of free expression are denied, may also be unconstitutional).” — Charles C. Haynes, First Amendment Center senior scholar, Dec. 19, 2004