by Bill Berkowitz
(IPS) -- Christian fundamentalists, right-wing Christian legal groups, and most of the Fox News Channel's prime time crew are echoing variations on the same theme -- liberals are out to take the Christ out of Christmas.
Last year, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, a once extremely popular Christian right leader, claimed that "secularists ... hate Christ" and want to "steal Christmas from America."
This holiday season, Falwell's Lynchburg, Va.-based Thomas Road Baptist Church has joined forces with a Christian legal outfit, Liberty Counsel, for its "Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign."
Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly -- under fire for recent explosive comments seemingly condoning the destruction of Coit Tower, San Francisco's monument to heroic firefighters -- argued on his program that viewers should shun stores that are "anti-Christmas."
The Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal group, announced that 800 attorneys agreed to voluntarily handle complaints about "improper attempts to censor the celebration of Christmas in schools and on public property," the Seattle Post-Intelligencer recently reported.
John Gibson, the host of Fox News Channel's "The Big Story," has penned a new book called "The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought" (Sentinel, October 2005), which is devoted to the controversy.
To paraphrase essayist Jon Mooallen, "The most demoralizing form of violence that could visit a Christian right leader such as the Rev. Jerry Falwell is the violence of not being noticed."
While nowhere near being the preeminent fundamentalist figure he was during the halcyon days of the Moral Majority more than a decade ago, Falwell still commands media attention.
In a recent edition of Falwell Confidential, the online "insider weekly" newsletter to the Moral Majority Coalition and the Liberty Alliance, he warned that Christmas was under attack. Christians, Falwell advized, should, "draw a line in the sand and resist bullying tactics by the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, the American Atheists and other leftist organizations that intimidate school and government officials by spreading misinformation about Christmas."
"Celebrating Christmas," Falwell declared, "is constitutional!"
(The organizations he pointed to as responsible for attacking Christmas include several of the same groups he blamed for the 9/11 terrorist attacks -- a claim he later apologized for.)
Targeting left-wing Grinches trying to drive Christmas out of the public square, Falwell wrote, "In many public venues, and in our schools and workplaces, many Americans have discovered that they are not permitted to erect Christmas decorations, exchange Christmas cards or sing Christmas carols."
To combat the Christmas-bashers, Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church -- which he has pastored for almost 50 years -- is sponsoring local newspaper ads. The genesis of the campaign is rooted in last year's pro-Christmas advertising campaign organized by Jerry Prevo, pastor of the Anchorage Baptist Temple, Alaska's largest church.
Prevo, chairman of the Falwell's Liberty University Board of Trustees, embarked on the campaign because "in this age of political correctness" many people in the U.S. have been convinced "that Christmas is a dirty word," Falwell wrote.
Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church advertisements provide information about "free legal assistance by Liberty Counsel to individuals facing persecution for celebrating Christmas." Liberty Counsel is also providing participants with a free "educational legal memo containing a pledge to be a 'Friend' to those entities which do not discriminate against Christmas and a 'Foe' to those that do."
Prevo worked closely with the Orlando-based Liberty Counsel -- "a nonprofit litigation, education and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of human life and the traditional family," according to its Web site -- to formulate the language of the ads, which are part of Liberty Counsel's "Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign." The campaign aims to prevent blatant religious discrimination during the Christmas holidays.
In 2003, Liberty Counsel organized a campaign called "Don't Let The 'Grinch' Steal This Christmas." Mathew D. Staver, Liberty Counsel's president and general counsel, laid out his rationale for that campaign:
"Our country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. If we separate these fundamental principles from our civic life, we destroy our government in the process," he said. He also predicted a rising national immorality if "we exclude religious principles."
On the Fox News Channel, ranting about liberals out to destroy Christmas is commonplace. Last year, host Bill O'Reilly opined that the Rev. Martin Luther King "would be appalled by the secular culture" and by "the attacks on Christmas, the demonizing of Christianity."
This year, O'Reilly started early: In addition to plugging John Gibson's book, he recently criticized the "anti-Christmas" practices of two major retailers -- Sears/K-Mart and Kohl's.
Gibson's book argues that those leading the fight against Christmas are primarily "secularists, so-called humanists, trial lawyers, cultural relativists and liberal, guilt-wracked Christians."
In addition, Sean Hannity, the popular co-host of Fox's "Hannity and Colmes" program, weaved the Christmas controversy into a recent segment discussing the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.
According to the News Hounds Web site, Hannity introduced the segment on Alito by saying that his "most controversial decision may have [involved] the defense of Christmas." Hannity pointed out that Judge Alito "appl[ied] the law" and upheld "common sense" by allowing Jersey City, N.J., to put up a Christmas display.
Over the years, the American Civil Liberties Union has fought religious-themed displays on public property. An official ACLU bulletin maintains that the Constitution allows school observances "that have become part of our country's secular culture," but forbids those "that promote or emphasize the religious significance" of Christmas.
The ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and evangelical groups have agreed "on minimal rules about school religious issues." On holidays, the accord says schools may celebrate secular aspects and "objectively teach about their religious aspects" but not observe them as religious events.
"Public schools aren't the appropriate place to celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday. That's a job for the home and the church," said Rob Boston, a spokesperson for Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
The Supreme Court's ruling that towns' Nativity displays must add secular symbols proves that if people "want a truly religious experience, city hall is not the place," Boston added.
Michael Johnson of Shreveport, La., an ADF staff lawyer, said that his organization intends to "defend the rights of the 96 percent of Americans who celebrate Christmas," and combat groups like the ACLU which "ultimately [want] to silence people of faith, and in many cases people of the Christian faith."
While it is impossible to get a handle on how much money these "liberals are stealing Christmas" raises for conservative Christian groups, it sure beats a run-of-the-mill end-of-year fund-raising appeal.
"About 95 percent of the whining from the far right" has more to do with fund-raising than Christmas, Boston said. "They're trying to get people worked up so they will think Christmas is being removed from public life. There isn't any evidence that's happening."
November 30, 2005 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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