Mark Steyn weighs in on modern Christmas traditions, the fear of even religious institutions to proclaim their faith out of fear of litigation, and what it all means:
Christmas in America is a season of time-honored traditions:
The sacred performance of the annual ACLU lawsuit over the presence of an insufficiently secular "holiday" tree.
The ritual provocations of the atheist displays licensed by pitifully appeasing municipalities to sit between the menorah and the giant Frosty the Snowman.
The familiar strains of every hack columnist's "war on Christmas" column rolling off the keyboard as easily as Richard Clayderman playing "Winter Wonderland" ...
This year has been a choice year. A crucified skeleton Santa Claus was erected as part of the "holiday" display outside the Loudoun County courthouse in Virginia — because, let's face it, nothing cheers the hearts of moppets in the Old Dominion like telling them, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus — and he's hanging lifeless in the town square."
Alas, a week ago, some local burghers failed to get into the ecumenical spirit and decapitated him. Who are these killjoys? Christians intolerant of the First Amendment (as some have suggested)? Or perhaps a passing Saudi? . . . .
Across the fruitcaked plain in California, the city of Santa Monica allocated permits for "holiday" displays at Palisades Park by means of lottery. Eighteen of the 21 slots went to atheists — for example, the slogan "37 million Americans know a myth when they see one" over portraits of Jesus, Santa, and Satan.
. . . Perhaps Santa Monica should adopt a less theocratic moniker and change its name to Satan Monica, as its interpretation of the separation of church and state seems to have evolved into expressions of public contempt for large numbers of the citizenry augmented by the traumatizing of their children.
Boy, I can't wait to see what those courageous atheists come up with for Ramadan. Or does that set their hearts a-flutter quite as much?
One sympathizes, up to a point. As America degenerates from a land of laws to a land of legalisms, much of life is devoted to forestalling litigation. What's less understandable is the faintheartedness of explicitly Christian institutions. . . .
When an explicitly Catholic institution thinks the meaning of Christmas is "tenderness for the past, vapid generalities for the present, evasive abstractions for the future," it's pretty much over. Suffering no such urge to self-abasement, Muslim students at the Catholic University of America in Washington recently filed a complaint over the lack of Islamic prayer rooms on the campus. They find it offensive to have to pray surrounded by Christian symbols such as crucifixes and paintings of distinguished theologians.
True, this thought might have occurred to them before they applied to an institution called "Catholic University." On the other hand, it's surely not unreasonable for them to have expected Catholic University to muster no more than the nominal rump Christianity of that Catholic college in New England. Why wouldn't you demand Muslim prayer rooms?
As much as belligerent atheists, belligerent Muslims reckon that a decade or so hence "Catholic colleges" will be Catholic mainly in the sense that Istanbul's Hagia Sophia is still a cathedral: that's to say, it's a museum, a heritage site for where once was a believing church. And who could object to the embalming of our inheritance?
Christmas is all about "tenderness for the past," right? When Christian college administrators are sending out cards saying "We believe in nothing", why wouldn't you take them at their word?
Which brings us back in this season of joy to the Republican presidential debates, the European debt crisis and all the other fun stuff. The crisis afflicting the West is not primarily one of unsustainable debt and spending. These are mere symptoms of a deeper identity crisis.
It is not necessary to be a believing Christian to be unnerved by the ease and speed with which we have cast off our inheritance and trampled it into the dust. When American municipalities are proudly displaying the execution of skeleton Santas and giant Satans on public property, it may just be a heartening exercise of the First Amendment, it may be a trivial example of the narcissism of moral frivolity.
Or it could be a sign that eventually societies become too stupid to survive. The fellows building the post-western world figure they know which it is.
And then there is this worthy essay on the topic from Ron Paul in 2003.
As we celebrate another Yuletide season, it's hard not to notice that Christmas in America simply doesn't feel the same anymore. Although an overwhelming majority of Americans celebrate Christmas, and those who don't celebrate it overwhelmingly accept and respect our nation's Christmas traditions, a certain shared public sentiment slowly has disappeared. The Christmas spirit, marked by a wonderful feeling of goodwill among men, is in danger of being lost in the ongoing war against religion.
Through perverse court decisions and years of cultural indoctrination, the elitist, secular Left has managed to convince many in our nation that religion must be driven from public view. The justification is always that someone, somewhere, might possibly be offended or feel uncomfortable living in the midst of a largely Christian society, so all must yield to the fragile sensibilities of the few. The ultimate goal of the anti-religious elites is to transform America into a completely secular nation, a nation that is legally and culturally biased against Christianity.
This growing bias explains why many of our wonderful Christmas traditions have been lost. Christmas pageants and plays, including Handel's Messiah, have been banned from schools and community halls. Nativity scenes have been ordered removed from town squares, and even criticized as offensive when placed on private church lawns. Office Christmas parties have become taboo, replaced by colorless seasonal parties to ensure no employees feel threatened by a “hostile environment.” Even wholly non-religious decorations featuring Santa Claus, snowmen, and the like have been called into question as Christmas symbols that might cause discomfort. Earlier this month, firemen near Chicago reluctantly removed Christmas decorations from their firehouse after a complaint by some embittered busybody.
Most noticeably, however, the once commonplace refrain of “Merry Christmas” has been replaced by the vague, ubiquitous “Happy Holidays.” But what holiday? Is Christmas some kind of secret, a word that cannot be uttered in public? Why have we allowed the secularists to intimidate us into downplaying our most cherished and meaningful Christian celebration?
The notion of a rigid separation between church and state has no basis in either the text of the Constitution or the writings of our Founding Fathers. On the contrary, our Founders' political views were strongly informed by their religious beliefs. Certainly the drafters of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, both replete with references to God, would be aghast at the federal government's hostility to religion. The establishment clause of the First Amendment was simply intended to forbid the creation of an official state church like the Church of England, not to drive religion out of public life.
The Founding Fathers envisioned a robustly Christian yet religiously tolerant America, with churches serving as vital institutions that would eclipse the state in importance. Throughout our nation's history, churches have done what no government can ever do, namely teach morality and civility. Moral and civil individuals are largely governed by their own sense of right and wrong, and hence have little need for external government. This is the real reason the collectivist Left hates religion: Churches as institutions compete with the state for the people's allegiance, and many devout people put their faith in God before their faith in the state. Knowing this, the secularists wage an ongoing war against religion, chipping away bit by bit at our nation's Christian heritage. Christmas itself may soon be a casualty of that war.
The war on religion is perhaps best captured this year by the fact that our elected Representatives in Congress have been advised by the Congressional Franking Comission that they cannot send out greeting cards to constituents on the Congressional dime that say "Merry Christmas."
The Supreme Court has so moved us from the true meaning of the First Amendment's anti-establishment clause that every one of the Founders - even the deist Thomas Jefferson - would be horrified at what has become of Christianity in the public sphere today. It is a travesty that is having a profound and lasting effect on our nation - and none of it is good. For a much more in depth explanation, please see the speech of James Buckley here.