Dec 18 2009
|Re: Congressman Henry Brown tries to save “true meaning of Chris|
Thanks for posting this. It's not surprising, of course, but good to keep track of.
Just for the record (in case anyone found this post without knowing anything about us or what we think), I'd like to summarize why we disagree with Brown's actions here.
The whole idea is based on two misunderstandings. Whether these misunderstandings are innocent (people just don't get it) or intentional (politicians know what we mean but misrepresent it to fire up their supporters and get votes) doesn't really matter to me. What matters is that bills like this increase the amount of misunderstanding and so have a negative effect.
What are these two misunderstandings?
The first is that anyone wants to "ban references to Christmas". I think those most upset about the war on Christmas actually believe there is an effort to prevent anyone from being able to display Christmas trees or nativity scenes. This is not true. Groups like the FFRF, AU and our own group (on a much smaller scale) the SHL all strongly believe in freedom of religion. We would never do anything to prevent a private citizen, private business or non-governmental organization from being able to display Christmas symbols on their own person or property. The confusion comes in when we do object to governments (or individuals representing a government) doing so as part of the goal of keeping the government religiously neutral. This goal is very different than "banning all references to Christmas" both because it does not apply to individuals or non-governmental organizations and because it is not specifically targeted at one holiday or religion (as it sounds if you say "banning Christmas"). In fact, the writings of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson make it quite clear that this is how they thought the government should be. (Madison proposed eliminating chaplains from the military and explained why a presidential proclamation for a "day of prayer" were unconstitutional; Jefferson became famous as a young politician by arguing that government funds should not go to religious schools.) If you are someone who has never heard this before -- if you think that in the good old days the government was openly religious -- then you should go back and read what these Founding Fathers had to say. Their goal was not to hurt religion, but to protect freedom of religion and to keep both government and religion more pure by keeping them separate.
The other misunderstanding is that there is some "movement" trying to get stores to stop saying "Merry Christmas". There is a movement (including religious and non-religious people) trying to keep government religiously neutral (see above), but not stores. As far as I'm concerned, store owners have every right to put up Christmas displays and to wish customers "Merry Christmas". However, they have to keep in mind that not all customers are Christians. I think Christians may not understand why this matters, so let me offer this thought experiment. If you are Christian, imagine going shopping at a store all decorated with displays for some other religion and as you leave the cashier hopes you have a "Happy Hanukkah" or "Good Diwali" or whatever. Would you not feel somewhat uncomfortable? Would you not feel like saying "Actually, I don't celebrate that." Most importantly -- to the store owners -- if there was another store that did not do all of this which sold the same stuff, would you not prefer to go there? My point is this: store owners are making a decision based on good old fashioned capitalism that it is not good business to scare away customers. If you'd like to argue that they should, go ahead. Like I said, I don't think this is a legal or constitutional question like the one in the previous paragraph. You can boycott stores that are nice to non-Christians if you want. But, why would anyone do this? I can only think of two possible reasons: so that they don't have to be reminded that non-Christians exist or because they think if stores are mean to non-Christians that it will convince some of us to become Christians. Either of these is pretty shameful, in my opinion. And the thought that there is some "conspiracy" trying to keep stores from being exclusively Christian in their displays and salutations is just an excuse that keeps people from realizing that this is their real motivation.
So, my big problem with Brown's proposition is that it promotes these two misconceptions, and that it does exactly the opposite of what I argued for in the long paragraph above: keeping government religiously neutral. Christmas should be celebrated by families, by individuals, by churches, by religious groups and organizations...even stores if the want to. But the government (and government buildings and government land) belong to all of us, and should not be promoting one religion over others or acting as if there is some "official approved religious belief" of the government. That's exactly what the "no establishment" clause in the Bill of Rights is there for.