Furthermore, this kind of whining is a form of bullying and discrimination against non-Christians. These people don’t just want their values and beliefs to be recognized and/or respected – they already have that. Christians have dominated the American population and history since the colonies were first founded. However, conservative Christians seem to want the First Amendment’s protection only for themselves. They want everyone to believe what they believe and to adhere to their values and lifestyle. If anyone tries to get a different belief, value or religious tradition recognized, these conservatives scream that this is unfair to Christians. The perfect example of this is what set off the first round of battle cries about the War on Christmas this year.
Conservative pundits like O’Reilly are indignant because the Montgomery County Board of Education in Maryland recently voted to take all references to religious holidays off of their calendar in response to a request from local Muslim leaders to have a Muslim holy day added to that calendar. Apparently students will still get the usual Christian and Judaic holidays off, but the religious names of those holidays will not be given on the calendar. In fact, these are public schools, and it is unconstitutional for them to recognize any religion in any way. Yet, Christian and Jewish students will still get their holidays while students of other religions will not. Apparently the lack of attendance of so many students on those holidays warrants closing the school then, but the small amount of students not attending for other religious holidays does not. These are public schools, funded by local, state and/or federal governments. The Constitution is clear about the separation of church and state. Like it or not, all government funded institutions must adhere to the Constitution and First Amendment just as such institutions must follow federal equal employment opportunity laws – or any laws, for that matter. If someone wants a religious education for his or her child, there are plenty of private schools, many of which are specifically for certain religions. Many of them offer some kind of financial aid for those who need it. Home schooling is also an option.
Part of the basis for all the whining about this is the flawed reasoning that since Christians are the majority religion in this country, their values and beliefs should be followed by everyone. However, the First Amendment exists to protect the minority from the majority, not the reverse. In fact, according to The Gale Encyclopedia of American Law, “… the U.S.Supreme Court explained that the government cannot ‘aid all religions against non-believers,’ any more than it can aid one religion over another (Torasco v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488, 81 S.Ct. 1680, 6 L. Ed. 2d 982 ).” Thomas Jefferson first used the phrase “separation of church and state” in his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802 as a reference for that section of the First Amendment. He and the other Founding Fathers understood the importance of preserving everyone’s right to their own religious beliefs and the necessity of preventing the government and all its entities from forcing any religion on people. That right includes not having to endure pressure from others to practice a specific religion on government property like public schools, or to endure censure or penalty of some kind for practicing a different religion. For example, it is discriminatory if a child of one religion is allowed to stay home for religious purposes without penalty, but a child of a different religion is not. Being forced to choose between missing class work and falling behind other students in school, or not observing a particular religious holiday, is a kind of penalty.
For that matter, why should anyone be given a holiday for a religious observance in a public, government funded school? How many Christians would be happy with public schools giving a holiday for a Hindu, Buddhist, or Muslim religious day? Why are non-Christians supposed to accept and celebrate Christian holidays? Yet, in America, non-Christians generally are expected to quietly accept and celebrate mainstream Christian holidays and other customs. Many do because they are powerless to do otherwise, or because they want to fit in. Ironically, no one asks which version of Christianity’s Christmas holiday we should be celebrating. Orthodox Christians celebrate the birth of Christ on January 7, not December 25. Traditionally, the Catholic Christmas season begins on the first day of Advent, which ends on Christmas day; then there are twelve days of Christmas celebration, ending on Epiphany, January 6. Some immigrants from predominantly Catholic countries still celebrate the season that way.
Actually, the Montgomery Board of Education is fairly progressive in that it recognized Jewish as well as Christian holidays. Most of the “War on Christmas” soldiers are fighting the recognition of Jewish and other holidays in that same time period. They want to “keep Christ in Christmas,” as if calling that large time period between Thanksgiving and approximately a week after the New Year “the holiday season,” or saying “happy holidays” instead of saying “Merry Christmas,” is somehow prejudicial against Christians. However, there are quite a few holidays within that time period celebrated by a variety of religions. Some of the dates change from year to year, but this year, in 2014, the Bahá'í faith will celebrate the Ascension of 'Abdu'l-Bahá on November 28; the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah will be celebrated from sundown on December 16 – 24; Wiccans and other nature religions will celebrate the Winter Solstice on December 21; most Christian denominations will celebrate Christmas on December 25; some Interfaith religions and some African Americans will celebrate Kwanzaa on December 26 – January 1; most Americans will celebrate the New Year on January 1 though the lunar New Year is celebrated on February 19 by many Asian immigrants, including Chinese and Vietnamese; Muslims will celebrate Mohammad’s birthday (Mawlid-al-Nabi) on January 3; some Christians will celebrate Epiphany on January 6; and Orthodox Christians will celebrate Christmas on January 7. When someone says “happy holidays,” why should anyone assume that person even means Christmas?
Culturally, Americans are bombarded with the symbols, decorations and Christian customs of Christmas. They are everywhere, even in government buildings and along many public thoroughfares. This is why many people treat Christmas as a cultural holiday rather than a religious one. It can be a fun time of year, and who doesn’t like getting and giving gifts? This is why the term Xmas is often used. There are a fair number of people who join in the revelry because it is inescapable, but they don’t believe in the religious aspects of it. Since that holiday has grown increasingly commercialized over the past century, this kind of participation has also grown. Many people aren’t celebrating Christmas. Many don’t even believe in Christ. They are celebrating the commercialized, cultural holiday, Xmas, possibly along with their own religious holiday that falls around the same time period. Is that what bothers some Christians? Well, if the holiday were kept as a personal celebration in the home and not so publicly hyped and blatantly used as an opportunity for businesses to make money, people probably wouldn’t try to remake all the hoopla into something they can participate in, too, within their own beliefs’ boundaries. Most importantly, why should the way other people celebrate it affect any Christian’s personal celebration of the holiday? If someone wants to celebrate the religious holiday of Christmas instead of the cultural holiday of Xmas, he or she should do so. That’s the person’s choice. No one has a right to tell others what they have to celebrate and how they have to celebrate it.
From Thanksgiving (sometimes even earlier) until after the New Year, we are bombarded by Christmas music on the radio and TV, Christmas TV programming, Christmas ads trying to get us to buy products for Christmas gifts, and Christmas decorations everywhere, in door and out. We live in a Christian-centric culture. People of other religions are forced to adapt, but there is a limit to how far they should be expected to go. When is the last time anyone saw a Bahá'í decoration this time of year? Try comparing the number of Hanukkah decorations and parties to the number of Christmas ones. How many Americans have even heard of Mawlid-al-Nabi? How many radio stations play Jewish music? For certain Christians to whine that they are being persecuted in some way is not just disingenuous, but stupid. No one respects people who have most of the privileges and advantages whine the few times they don’t get their way, especially when they unreasonably insist that everyone should do things their way.
Throughout the US, there is no escaping decorated trees, lights, and all the other commercialized trappings of a holiday that the original pilgrims, Puritans, who helped found our country, considered to be a pagan celebration and anti-Christian. The Puritans actually banned celebrations of Christmas. In fact, celebrating Christmas was illegal in the Massachusetts Bay Colony from 1659 to 1681. (That was before the Constitution was written, obviously.) This illustrates the necessity for The First Amendment. Consider this: if we did not have the First Amendment, and Puritanism and its denominational offshoots had retained their majority or political power, Christmas might actually have been banned altogether in the U.S. by Christians. They considered all traditions associated with Christmas to be pagan and sinful. Celebrating Christmas was to those early, American Christians, who helped found our country, a kind of war on true Christianity. Think about that next time a Fox pundit spouts off about some made-up “War on Christmas.”
Note: For statistics w/r/t religious demographics in the U.S., see http://religions.pewforum.org/reports