Fox News’ John Gibson needs to travel outside the U.S. once in a while. It might open his eyes. He thinks there is a war on Christmas and, worse, this war on Christmas is actually a war on Christians. It’s difficult not to pity these poor persecuted Christians who are forced to choose between either boycotting their local Wal Mart or Target or bearing declarations of “Happy Holidays” in lieu of “Merry Christmas”.
Mr. Gibson’s war on Christmas raves about a liberal plot to ban Christmas. One grievous example he names is renaming Christmas break to winter break in schools, as obviously doing so means that Christmas has been banned and his children will neither receive coal in their stockings nor even be allowed to have stockings. It’s not just Mr. Gibson. Google “war on Christmas” (In quotes no less) and get nearly two million hits!
This issue arises so frequently in the U.S. thanks to the first amendment of the constitution
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Note: that’s not the last time you’ll see that quote here.
Contrary to the belief of many who are engaged in this ‘war on Christmas’, the first amendment does not forbid celebrating Christmas while on winter break. What it does forbid is government from getting involved with religion; any religion. Why did our founding fathers do this? To protect religion! European countries from which the Pilgrims fled did not have the Establishment Clause in their governments and citizens were forced to change their faiths with the whim of a monarch. Even today, religion has flourished in the U.S. in part due to it’s private nature. When the government funds religion it must also select which religions it deems appropriate and which not. Mormonism, for example, was only recognized in Germany in the last decade. Worse, if tax revenues are down, churches often go unfunded. Neither of these conditions occurs in the United States. The Establishment Clause doesn’t just acknowledge that our nation is not a religious theocracy but instead a melting pot of diverse faiths and even the freedom to be free of faith. The first amendment also helps to protect religion from the meddling and vagaries of government.
There is no war on Christmas simply because those of other faiths do not wish their tax dollars to be spent on beliefs in which they put no stock. Forget what American Muslims (1.5 million people) think about Christmas vacation. Forget what American Hindus (1 million people) think about Easter break. We can see how difficult establishing a religion would be simply by asking which Bible we should teach in schools? King James or NIV? Leaving religion home seems like a good place for it. If you believe strongly in your faith, you’re welcome to speak proudly about in a public forum (I hear people will actually read blogs!) but the government doesn’t have to support it.
But doesn’t forcing religion out of schools and court houses automatically support the religion of secular humanism? It continues to be frustrating to me that any deeply held belief is considered a religion. Just because the vernacular uses the word religion as such doesn’t make it so. A Boulderite with an almost religious fervor for rock climbing is not a member of the rock climbing religion even if he calls the crags his cathedral. Capitalism is not a religion. Members of the Republican party are not (necessarily) part of a religion. Atheism is not a religion and even the Supreme Court admits that secular humanism is not a religion:
In this 1994 case, a science teacher argued that, by requiring him to teach evolution, his school district was forcing him to teach the “religion” of secular humanism. The Court responded, “We reject this claim because neither the Supreme Court, nor this circuit, has ever held that evolutionism or secular humanism are `religions’ for Establishment Clause purposes.” The Supreme Court refused to review the case; they refused to reverse a ruling that secular humanism is not a religion.
The absence of government funded religious activity hardly constitutes a religion and strikes me as a weak excuse to go against the Establishment Clause and choose a religion or group for government support.
So what do we do in multi-cultural United States? We might be able to learn from other parts of the world where many faiths and cultures have found themselves as neighbors. There are many religions in India. Some of the most popular are Hindu, Islam and Sikhism. Traditions for each of those religions influences the outward appearance and even styles of dress for adherents and, as a result, it’s often easy to see, just by looking at someone’s hair and clothes which religion he is. And so it is considered polite to greet someone with the customary greeting of his religion. The Muslim man will greet the Hindu with “namaste, ji.” In return, he’ll hear “a salam alaikum” from the Hindu. When Mr. Singh drops by (names too, are often reliable religious indicators) they’ll both likely offer: “Sat shri akal, ji.”
Some translate “namaste” as ‘the deity in me greets the deity in you.’ I imagine this sentiment is partly responsible for this considerate tradition. This wonderful custom shows respect for the person with whom you are speaking. I must admit, however, that even if U.S. Americans thought this was a great idea it would be difficult to implement here. It’s not nearly so obvious what religion someone is when you meet them. Religion is practically a taboo subject and so we either blithely send our Jewish friends Christmas cards hoping not to offend or just retreat to innocuous wishes of “happy holidays.”
The Indian tradition shows real tolerance and respect for people of other faiths. The U.S. too is a melting pot of religions and traditions, so perhaps we can adapt the south Asian custom to our religious anonymity and simply send out cards that profess our own beliefs and promise not to be offended by the sincerely expressed beliefs of others. I decided to start this tradition myself when my boss, knowing I am not Christian, asked me what he should send me for a holiday card, I told him the story of Indian greetings and suggested he send me a Christmas card.
There is no war on Christmas just because we uphold the first amendment to the constitution but that doesn’t mean we have to drive religion from all corners of life. Perhaps we can choose to respect each other and greet the deity in each other even if that diety is only as supernatural as the regard we have for each other.