It’s becoming an annual ritual. Some Christian plants a Christmas display on government property. Some atheist or agnostic threatens to sue under the First Amendment’s “Establishment Clause.” The display is taken down amidst a flurry of charges by Christian political activists of a “War on Christmas.”
The New Jersey Star-Ledger ridiculed this War on Christmas idea. In Yes, New Jersey, there's no war on Christmas, the paper wrote:
It happens every year. The mall Santas, the Christmas trees and the nativity scenes come out, then one atheist complains, or one public official decides to make a point, and we have an outpouring of paranoia that there is a War on Christmas.
No — a war on Christ himself.
We're already seeing outbreaks of aggression from the dark, evil cabal of Merry-Christmas-haters right here in New Jersey. They've descended on the good people of Roselle Park and Rutherford, rumor has it, and begun to inch their precious holiday closer and closer to extinction.
There’s another way to look at this issue: The Christmas tree as a secular symbol, like the peace sign, based on the fact that Christmas is an American secular holiday.
In my view, the point that both Christian and Atheist activists miss is that, in America, Christmas long ago ceased being a strictly Christian holiday. On June 28, 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the first federal holiday law. That law established New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day as national holidays. Undoubtedly, the inclusion of Christmas had something to do with the fact that, culturally, America is super-majority Christian.
In America—the land of the First Amendment—Christmas can not be considered a Christian holiday, or even a religious one. Why? America is a secular nation based on the separation of church and state. America has no state religion. The First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. . .” This, by definition, makes any national, legally recognized holiday a secular holiday, to be observed and celebrated—or not—according to the personal convictions of each individual. A legally recognized religious holiday in a nation based on religious freedom—which means, more broadly, freedom of conscience—is a fundamental contradiction. To claim otherwise is to repudiate one of America’s foundational principles.
There’s an old saying, “Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.” The minute Christians got Christmas codified into a federal holiday, they lost any right to call Christmas “their” holiday. Christians could, of course, campaign to have Christmas removed from the list of national holidays. But, at this point, why bother? Christmas has become so integral to American culture as to make “Merry Christmas” as much a generic term as “Happy Holidays.”
But this should not offend reasonable Christians. Secular does not mean atheist or agnostic. Secular means strict governmental neutrality regarding matters of individual belief and conscience. Christians are of course free to privately celebrate Christmas according to their own beliefs and principles. Likewise, non-Christians, whether adherents of other religions or no religion, theist, atheist, or agnostic, have the same right to celebrate Christmas in their way. But no one has the right to express their religious beliefs at taxpayer expense.
Christmas is first and foremost an American holiday. A Christmas tree on public property is fine, so long as its decorative ornaments don’t endorse any religious beliefs. What we can all agree on is that Christmas is a season of personal joy and goodwill toward each other. Goodwill is not a monopoly of Christianity. So, let’s just enjoy the holiday, each in our own way.
The question is, why do some Christians keep trying to ram their religion down everyone else’s throats? What don’t these political activists get about the Separation of Church and State? If anything, there’s a War on non-Christians going on.
America Was Not Founded as a Christian Nation