12/1/2006 - December 2006 Educational Update - Reflections on Another Christmas . . . Er. . . I Mean. . . , Holiday Past
A CHRISTMAS MEMO
THE SOUTHEAST LAW INSTITUTE™, INC.
To: SLI Supporters
Date: December 2006
From: A. Eric Johnston
Re: Reflections on Another Christmas, Er . . . I Mean . . . , Holiday Past
For over twenty years we have been working on protecting the rights of public school children to enjoy the religious aspects of Christmas. During the 1990s, there was a significant amount of litigation on the issue, including Alabama. You may recall the DeKalb County prayer case. The ultimate decision by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with SLI’s initial position taken on behalf of Governor James, that the free exercise of religion clause permits children to express religion at public schools, including Christmas.
Guidelines have been provided by both the federal and Alabama state governments. The federal “No Child Left Behind Act” and Bill Pryor’s Attorney General’s Opinion clearly explain free exercise rights. Nevertheless, each year, we have telephone calls from concerned parents that their children are not permitted to tell the true Christmas story, pass out Christmas cards referring to the virgin birth, or express some religious sentiment. This year was no exception. We had a few calls, provided information, and to our knowledge, all problems were satisfactorily resolved. We appreciate that most schools respect students’ rights.
In addition to public schools, public squares have also been scrutinized. You may recall the U.S. Supreme Court case which permitted a nativity scene to be erected by a city, so long as there were other aspects of Christmas present. This is pejoratively called the “plastic reindeer test.” In other words, the baby Jesus could be present as long as there were also plastic reindeer. Although this test may sound strange, it is really not too far removed from an appropriate appreciation for Christmas in all its aspects.
This past Christmas, we noticed for the first time an effort in the private sector to remove the Christian aspects of Christmas, viz., Macy’s required employees to express “Happy Holidays” and not “Merry Christmas” and the Summit shopping area in Birmingham had no Christian symbols. Christmas trees were even removed from stores and open areas and this would certainly lead you to believe that mangers were a no-no. It was not long ago that the only debate was whether Christmas trees were historically “Christian” or “heathen.” Oh, for simpler times.
This year Christmas finally became politically incorrect. Many public schools did not let up on their efforts to sanitize (Santa-tize) Christmas, but for the first time, we saw major developments in virtually every area of American life to abandon our traditional cultural appreciation for Christmas. The fact is, America seemed to be celebrating every new and every secular aspect of Christmas, but the traditional and Christian religious aspect. There was a plastic reindeer, but no baby Jesus; there was a menorah, but no star; there was a zawadi, but no wise men; there was a Nutcracker, but no kernel of truth.
It is true we are a country of immigrants and not a homogenous society. Nevertheless, the first Americans were of a Judeo-Christian heritage from Western Europe, although they were diverse in their doctrine. They brought with them many customs, most of which were integrated into the cultural traditional American Christmas as we know it. It was not too very long ago that we enjoyed all of the traditions of Christmas. It was not wrong to expect Santa Claus, because you still knew and, if you wished, celebrated the real “reason for the season.” Non-Christians were not forced to believe in the virgin birth, but it was accepted as part of the American tradition. One was not afraid to say “Happy Holidays”, and be mistaken for trying to avoid saying “Merry Christmas.” It was all part of the same thing.
The American population has changed with significantly more presence of other religions and traditions from parts of the world other than Western Europe. We should all respect these religious beliefs and customs. These Americans are entitled to celebrate and enjoy them under the freedoms granted by the United States Constitution.
At the same time, America is great because of those constitutionally guaranteed freedoms. Accordingly, we cannot abandon our traditions for the sake of being radically pluralistic. Pluralism will lead to tribalism. We become a nation of separate tribes with no common bond. America has created its own nationalistic spirit, though being a country of immigrants with divergent views, by coming together under the banner of constitutional freedoms. What is happening in America today is a disintegration of that nationalism into an outwardly secular society devoid of our real tradition and history. The “politically correct” approach to American life today is to avoid doing something you fear will offend another person. Respect for another person is found in appreciation for his values and not the forsaking of your own values.
What we have just observed at Christmas is not a singular event, but an indication of something wrong. It is a multifaceted and complex problem, which must be approached in many different venues. It is a spiritual matter, as well as, a temporal matter. We do not have all the answers and there is certainly a great more reflection necessary to come up with those answers. For the time being, we need to do what we each can to respect one another, but at the same time preserve and respect what we have. We may be in the public sector or we may be in the private sector; wherever, we have an obligation to protect America’s traditions, while respecting the individual beliefs of others.
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