Thursday, November 03, 2005

It's that special time of year
You know the one. There's snow in the mountains, the stores are changing their holiday displays, and Bill O'Reilly is whining about the liberal plot to kill Christmas. Yesterday on The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly, the baby Jesus’ only friend managed to work his pet complaint into an editorial on Samuel Alito' nomination to the Supreme Court.
By the way, if Alito is confirmed, that will be a good thing for conservatives. That's the bottom line. Because Alito will take a more traditional view than a Breyer or a Ginsburg. OK? He'll look at things, and he'll say, "You know, the Founding Fathers didn't want partial-birth abortion. The Founding Fathers didn't want all mention of Christmas stricken from the public arena." That's what Alito will do. He's a traditionalist. He's going to rule that way.

As Media Matters points out, we don't know what the founding fathers would have thought of the current annual Christmas showdown in the public square. In the early days of the puritan New England colonies, celebrating Christmas was a crime. Jefferson is on record opposing federal recognition of religious holidays (Thanksgiving was the holiday in question). In any case, Christmas was a fairly minor holiday in the founding father's time. The celebration didn't begin to evolve into it's current form until the middle of the nineteenth century. By then, all of the founding fathers were long gone. Once again, O'Reilly's grasp of history is shown to be embarrassingly weak.

Perhaps more alarming than his version of history, is that this statement suggests he plans to spend another winter pushing his silly idea that there is a liberal conspiracy to have "all mention of Christmas stricken from the public arena." Last year we had to listen to O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Pat Buchanan, and the lesser Limbaugh, David, drag out every out-of-context anecdote and urban legend they could to try and prove how oppressed Christians are.

This nonsense has become a right-wing holiday ritual over the last few years. And it is nonsense. A proper separation of church and state does not require "all mention of Christmas stricken from the public arena." If it did, O'Reilly and his friends wouldn't be allowed to whine about it. The separation of church and state does not require the abolition of religion or pushing religion out of the public square. It does, however, prevent the government from favoring one religion over another or from favoring religion in general over non-religion. This means the government shouldn't pay for religious celebrations, endorse them in any way, or lend our property for them.

O'Reilly's eyes bug and his ears turn interesting colors every time he hears about a department store requiring its employees say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." This has nothing to do with separation of church and state. Department stores belong to corporations and corporations are not the state. Yet. If department stores want to neutralize the holidays, it is for business reasons and not for constitutional reasons.

Several businesses here in Seattle, including the largest car towing company, have worked the ichthys symbol (the Christian fish) into their corporate logos and business signage. I don't like having their religion shoved in my face every time I go out, but it's their right to do so and there is nothing I can do about it. If I choose to boycott them, that's my right and there is nothing they can do about it. That's what happens when people choose to link business and religion (or politics or school spirit or taste in music). If my neighborhood mall chooses not to explicitly support any religion, that's their right. I might choose to support them for that and O'Reilly might choose to boycott them for that and that is our right.*

You see how this works? There are many religions in America. Our government, which represents us all the people and not just the majority, can't take sides. A perfect separation of church and state is not possible. Our government is made up of people and most people are still religious. Some people's religious practices will leak into public space and have the potential of annoying others. Just because it's not possible to be perfect doesn’t mean our government should stop trying to be neutral and endorse right-wing Christianity. All our government can do is try to be an honest broker. We, in turn, should be a little less thin skinned and not go to pieces whenever we hear someone say "Season's Greetings." Are you listening, Bill?

* Now, if someone had a Flying Spaghetti Monster ichthys on their sign, I’d be there.

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