Thursday, December 30, 2010

Lowe's Renames Christmas Trees to Family Trees - and Back Again

Here is one more example of entities that are afraid to names items accurately. Lowe's, the home improvement store, always sold "Christmas trees" in their stores. But they thought that a bad idea and renamed the products "Family Trees" a few years ago. But the uproar among their customers was so great that they renamed the items "Christmas Trees" again.

Lowe's is a private company and may do whatever they please in such matters. But all the lawsuits against government entities for recognizing one of our nation's oldest holidays may have made Lowe's nervous. Fortunately, they listened to their customers.

Check out the story at Snopes:

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Twas the Night Before a Holiday

The city of Mount Pleasant, Michigan, is located in what many would consider the "Bible Belt." But that does not make it immune to controversy around Christmas time. Their annual "Dickens Christmas Festival" has been renamed this year to the "Dickens Holiday Festival."

It seems that the town plans on promoting this in many places, including the public schools. But in an effort to be "inclusive" the schools have banned the word Christmas. According to an Alliance Defense Fund press release, "The Mount Pleasant School District enacted a policy that purportedly bans the use of the words 'Christmas,' 'Santa,' and 'nativity.'  ADF attorneys explained in the letter that such a policy is unconstitutional as applied to the private speech of students, teachers, and members of the community."

Being the simple-minded person that I am, it seems natural to assume that this festival is named in memory of Charles Dickens' story "A Christmas Carol," which one may see on television in a few different productions this time of year. Would the school ban that story as well? Would it ban a book of collected Dickens' writings if the book included the Christmas Carol?

Is it uncomfortable for school officials and teachers to acknowledge that Christmas is part of the history of our country, and that there are a great many traditions that exist because of Christmas? Or is it better to just hide that fact so those of others faiths are not offended? Do we wish to present the U.S. traditions of Christmas as a huge mistake, and a shame of our history, treating Christmas in the same light as slavery? We perhaps have to recognize that Christmas exists (existed?), but we don't have to be proud of it.

Read more at the link below:

Sunday, December 26, 2010

U.S. HUD Prohibits Christmas in Housing

Our U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is a government agency. And we all know that the First Amendment of the Constitution prohibits the federal government from establishing an official national religion.

So how do we get from those facts to HUD saying that an 85-year-old grandmother may not put an angel on top of the living center's "Christmas" tree because it is too religious? Would that act establish an official national religion? Then there is the rule that residents may use the common room for a party during the Christmas season but they may not call it a Christmas party. Since the party was not necessarily the only event held in that room, and since no person would be required to attend, why not call it a Christmas party?

Read more below:

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Village Renamed to Holiday Village

In Philadelphia, a private organization has had a "German Christmas Village" display for the last few years. It is a walk-in display, with booths and vendors inside. If you look at the link below you can see a press photo of the sign above the entrance. The word "Christmas" is being removed. It will be replaced with the word "Holiday" instead.

This is not a Constitutional issue, nor is it a political issue. At least, in this case, no one has sued as far as I know. But instead I sense it is an issue of political correctness. While the city of Philadelphia is listed as a partner in this display, which is actually run by a commercial company, the motivation to change the name does not come from the city.

What is wrong with naming it a German Christmas Village? Loudspeakers at the venue will be playing Nat King Cole's "Christmas Song." There will be nativity scenes and more secular Christmas object for sale inside. The Germans in America throughout our history have observed Christmas. According to the Library of Congress, "The Germanic custom of having a specially decorated tree at Christmas time was introduced to America by Pennsylvania Dutch in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Later in the century, the Pennsylvania Dutch version of St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas, evolved into America's Santa Claus, popularized by a German immigrant and influential political cartoonist, Thomas Nast. The Easter bunny and Easter eggs were also brought to this country by German immigrants." (The drawing by Nast is shown to the left.)

The image shown to the right of this paragraph is available from the Library of Congress' shop as a print. It is described: "The Christmas coach 1795 / J.L.G. Ferris. View of coach on High (Market) Street at Second, Philadelphia, on Christmas Eve, with woman getting off, in front of the old courthouse."

The first calls for national public days of fasting and prayer came from our Continental Congress in Philadelphia. That congress opened its sessions with prayer, and signed many official documents with "In the year of our Lord..."

Read more below:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

ACLU-Tennessee: Schools Better Ditch Christmas or Else

The ACLU is staging a preemptive strike in Tennessee by sending letters to all the public schools. They warn the school administrators to make sure that Christmas is not singled out specifically during the "Winter holiday season." With such letters, the reader is certain to understand that if the ACLU senses too much recognition of Christmas, then a lawsuit might very well follow. And what school can afford that?

The Liberty Counsel  sent their own letter to schools to demonstrate how the ACLU has it wrong. They report that court decisions have found that Christmas music, for example, may be performed as long as there are other types of music on the concert.

The ACLU seems willing to overlook how many of the Founders, including "Mr. separation of church and state" himself Thomas Jefferson, believed in the use of the Holy Bible in public schools. Jefferson attended church services at the U.S. Capitol and even ordered the U.S. Marine Band to perform.

Read more at the link below:

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tulsa Strips "Christ" from Event Name

Tulsa, Oklahoma, used to have an annual Christmas Parade of Lights (a tradition that dates back about 70 years). The parade is still there, but the name has been changed to "Holiday Parade of Lights" instead. Senator Jim Inhofe, who used to be mayor of Tulsa and who rode is horse in the parade, has refused to participate this year because of the name change.

Once again we have a parade that was originally intended to celebrate Christmas along with most of the local population, but now it has become a political issue. Why change the name? To be more inclusive? To not offend anyone who is of a different religion or of no religion? I'm sure someone had a reason along those lines. But I'm also reasonably sure that the much-misunderstood metaphor "separation of church and state" played a role. I don't suspect a direct connection such as a lawsuit this year. I believe it likely it has more to do with various lawsuits and court decisions in the past. In some cases those decisions have seemed to indicate that "Christmas" is not a proper word to associate with civic events.

Imagine how surprised our Founders would be to discover such an attitude in current-day America. They were not in any way ashamed of proclaiming religious days, such as national days of fasting and prayer. Our nation has an official holiday for Christmas, and all federal and state offices are closed that day. Don't look for mail that day. Don't even expect to do much shopping. Why then do we seem afraid to call a parade that originated as a Christmas celebration a "Christmas [anything]" parade?

Read more below:

Video here:

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Fort Worth Bank Kicks Out Christmas Tree

In Southlake, Texas, a Chase Bank branch was given a Christmas tree by a local businessman as a favor to the bank's manager. But the corporate office sent an email that said the tree had to go. The stated reason was they wanted to be inclusive and not risk offending some customers.

While the theme of this blog is usually related to misguided actions made because of confusion about the purpose of the Constitution's First Amendment. That is not the case here. The tree was not removed because the company said they were afraid of breaking the law. It was a corporate decision based on a view of customer relations. It dealt with an item displayed on property they control. It was their right to do this. But I think it is too bad that a company thinks this way, and that some of the public thinks this way.

The President is going to light a National Christmas Tree this year, and there are many other Christmas trees on display in public places, private and governmental. Are people afraid that such a tree indicates the bank is preaching? Or that the bank only welcomes Christian customers? Does the bank intend to stay open on Christmas day in order to be inclusive?

I strongly suspect that this kind of attitude comes about because of all the lawsuits that have been publicized about various types of Christmas recognition and other religious symbols or statements in public places. You will find many such actions reported elsewhere on this blog.

But at least the bank (apparently) does not prohibit employees from wishing "Merry Christmas" to customers.

Read more below:

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Chicago Nativity Scene Is Back This Year

A topic you may see in the news every year around this time has to do with a tradition of public displays during the Christmas season (sorry - the "holiday" season). The USA does not have an official religion, and such a thing would be prohibited by the Constitution. However, the Constitution does not require that government avoid any recognition of religion. Many of our Founders have stated that our country was founded on Christian principles and courts, presidents, and other public figures have affirmed this even through recent times.

Yet there are groups and individual who would stop any recognition of religion tradition. Many towns across America have displayed nativity scenes around Christmas time. Any many of them have been sued to prevent those displays, citing the so-called "separation of church and state."

I'll grant them the point that a nativity scene might be somewhat more overt than a Christmas tree, but they both are rooted in the same holiday and tradition. This year, as with years in our past, the President will light our National Christmas Tree during a public ceremony. How then, do we assume that a town having a nativity display is less appropriate? Or could it be that groups who sue about such things are not quite ready to take on the President and Congress just yet? (Not to say that's not coming.)

This year, in Chicago, there WILL be a nativity scene, as there has been in past years. Will someone sue? Perhaps. But in the mean time it will be there to remind passersby of the "reason for the season." Read the story at the link below:

Monday, December 13, 2010

Another Founder's Statement of Faith - Robert Treat Paine

Robert Treat Paine is one of our Founders and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. As such he may have been one of those who some today would say were a bunch of theists and atheists. But he was truly a Christian, at least in his own opinion and perhaps that of his church. Here is his statement of faith:

"I Believe the Bible to be the written word of God & to Contain in it the whole Rule of Faith & manners; I consent to the Assemblys Shorter Chatachism as being Agreable to the Reveal¡¯d Will of God & to contain in it the Doctrines that are According to Godliness. I have for some time had a desire to attend upon the Lords Supper and to Come to that divine Institution of a Dying Redeemer, And I trust I¡¯m now convinced that it is my Duty Openly to profess him least he be ashamed to own me An Other day; I humbly therefore desire that you would receive me into your Communion & Fellowship, & I beg your Prayers for me that Grace may be carried on in my soul to Perfection, & that I may live answerable to the Profession I now make which (God Assisting) I purpose to be the main End of all my Actions."

From The papers of Robert Treat Paine, Volume 3 (Stephen T. Riley, Edward William Hanson, Massachusetts Historical Society)

Friday, December 10, 2010

John Adams on Religion's Positive Influence (1798)

One of our country's early presidents, John Adams, found a benefit to society from religion. (This was true for many of our founders. If they were correct, one has to wonder why there are people and groups who work so hard to keep any sign of religion out of government at any level.)

In the "Message from John Adams to the Officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts" Adams said (emphasis added):

But should the people of America once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another, and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation while it is practising iniquity and extravagance, and displays in the most captivating manner the charming pictures of candor, frankness, and sincerity, while it is rioting in rapine and insolence, this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world; because we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

As found in the book, The works of John Adams, second president of the United States, Volume 9 (Charles Francis Adams)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

National prayer event OK'd by judge, Constitution

Colorado Governor Bill Ritter had issued a proclamation that said their annual prayer observances are constitutional. This action was part of a suit by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, who claimed that the action was a violation of the so-called "separation of church and state." (Never mind that the very men who wrote the U.S. Constitution also were responsible for several declarations of days of prayer.)

The governor actions were defended by the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), and Denver judge R. Michael Mullins decided the governor's decision was compatible with the state's religious freedom clause.

Kevin Theriot, the ADF attorney, said:

"The fact that the government acknowledges our religious heritage and the fact that we are predominantly a religious people does not create a constitutional crisis," ... "And the folks at Freedom From Religion Foundation and other anti-religion organizations aren't okay with that. They keep trying to rewrite history, and they're going to courts asking judges to agree with them."

Read more at the link below:

Saturday, December 4, 2010

John Hancock on Religion in Society

We all know that John Hancock was the first signer of the Declaration of Independence (hence the phrase, "Put your 'John Hancock' right on the dotted line."). But did you also recall that he was governor of Massachusetts? And do you know any of the words in his inaugural address as governor?

Here is a sample of his ideas from his inaugural address as Governor of Massachusetts, 1780.

Sensible of the importance of Christian piety and virtue to the order and happiness of a state, I cannot but earnestly commend to you every measure for their support and encouragement that shall not infringe the rights of conscience, which I rejoice to see established by the Constitution on so broad a basis; and if anything can be further done on the same basis for the relief of the public teachers of religion and morality, an order of men greatly useful to their country, and who have particularly suffered in the defense of its rights by the depreciation of currency; as also for the relief of widows and orphans, many of whom have been distressed in the same way, and who are particularly committed by Heaven to the protection of civil rulers, I shall most readily concur with you in every such measure.

A due observation of the Lord's Day is not only important to internal religion, but greatly conducive to the order and benefit of civil society. It speaks to the senses of mankind, and, by a solemn cessation from their common affairs, reminds them of a Deity and the accountableness to the great Lord of all.

As found in:
John Hancock: his book, by Abram English Brown, page 269.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Freedom of Speech/Religion Upheld in Montana

In a 2008 high school graduation ceremony in Butte, Montana, one of the valedictorians planned to mention her faith in her address. However, the school's principal stepped to forbid the words Renee Griffith planned, which included a statement that she "didn’t let fear keep me from sharing Christ and his joy with those around me" and that she would speak about "being someone who lived with a purpose from God with a passionate love for him."

The principal suggested specific alternative, non-religious wording. Renee did not accept that, and therefore she was not permitted to give her speech. She sued, but lost in the district court. However just a few days ago the Montana Supreme Court overturned that ruling, saying she had the right to speak of her faith.

So here we had a principal that let students give their thoughts, as long as the thoughts were not about religion. And this had to go to the state supreme court to restore her rights.

I believe it is very mistaken for a school official to think that the First Amendment requires this kind of "separation of church and state" (that phrase is not actually in the First Amendment). The amendment prohibits a law from being made respecting an establishment of religion. Schools do not make law, and a student speaking her own words at a ceremony would not constitute the establishment of a religion.

Read more below: