A PROGRESSIVE VOICE FROM THE LLANO ESTACADO

Sunday, December 04, 2011

The War On Religious Freedom

About this time of every recent year, we start to hear the same old nonsense about how atheists and others are waging a "war on christmas". The main reasons given for this supposed war is that some people and businesses say "happy holidays" instead of "merry christmas", and nativity scenes are not allowed on government property. This whole thing is just silly. If a person or business says "happy holidays", they are not trying to eradicate christmas but simply trying to appeal to a larger base of people than just christians (since atheists, muslims, hindus, buddhists, and other don't disappear during the month of December).

The fact is that most atheists don't mind a person celebrating their own religion -- as long as they don't try to shove it down our throats. Anyone who wants to say "merry christmas" is welcome to do so. You can even put a nativity scene in your front yard or living room if you want. It's your property and the Constitution guarantees you the right to practice your religion on your own property. And the same goes for churches, businesses, and private organizations. They all have the right to display (or not display) religious symbols and sayings on their property.

Frankly, I do not know any atheists who would disagree with that, because allowing others to practice their religion as they see fit also protects our right to not practice any religion at all. That's the beauty of the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom -- it protects everyone.


But too many right-wing fundamentalist christians are not happy with the right to freely practice their religion. Instead of religious freedom, they want the right to force their own religion on others. And while there is no war on christmas, these fundamentalists have declared war on religious freedom. While this war on religious freedom is being fought all year long ( putting creationism in science classes, praying at school and government meetings, etc.), it seems to reach a fever point this time of year.

These fundamentalist christians don't seem to understand (or don't care) that putting their religion exclusively on government property (like a nativity scene on courthouse property) is a violation of the Constitution's guarantee of religious freedom -- because it is government recognizing one religion above all others. It is a government seal of approval for a specific religion, and if religious freedom is to survive, government must never be seen as either approving or disapproving of any one religion (or religion in general).

The insistence by many christians on putting their religious symbols on government property this time of the year has put many local governments between a rock and a hard place. If they don't do it they incur the wrath of many christians, and if they do it they could well find themselves with an expensive (and un-winnable) lawsuit on their hands. To stay out of legal trouble, the government entity must either not allow any displays (the sensible solution), or they must allow all groups to put up displays (a real mess).

A perfect example of this is illustrated by the Courthouse in Loudon County, Virginia. In 2009, a controversy arose over the county government allowing a nativity scene on government property. They decided to allow no displays. The people didn't like that either, so the county decided it would allow ten displays to be put up (because that's all there was room for) and the ten spots for displays would be awarded on a first-come first-served basis. Here's what they wound up with this year:


• A crèche, or nativity scene, from Leesburg resident Dennis Welsh.
• A sign showing a picture of the Easter Bunny, Santa and Jesus Christ with text that states, "Myths for Young and Old," a quote from Thomas Edison and information about the Loudoun Atheists, submitted by Leesburg resident Emmert Elsea.
• A banner with the text "Celebrating our Constitution" and language about keeping church and state separate, submitted by Leesburg resident Rick Wingrove. The banner comes from American Atheists and NOVA Atheists.
• A banner promoting "reason in the holiday season," submitted by Lansdowne resident Larry Mendoza.
• A holiday display that will either be a Tree of Knowledge or a holiday message sign, from Sterling resident Lydia Rice.
• A sign displaying a letter from Jesus, submitted by Middleburg resident Jenelle Embrey.
• A piece of art work depicting Santa on a cross to "depict society's materialistic obsessions and addictions and how it is killing the peace, love, joy and kindness that is supposed to be prevalent during the holiday season," submitted by Middleburg resident Jeff Heflin Jr.
• A sign about the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, submitted by Leesburg resident Ken Levesque.
• Another sign from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, this one with a holiday message, submitted by Matthew Courtney of Reston.
• A nativity scene, submitted by the Rev. Jack Grubbs from the Potomac Falls Anglican Church.

I seriously doubt this was what the christians wanted when they insisted on being able to put their religious display on government property, but this is the only legal solution that would allow that display to go up. I really think they would have been better off to just honor the religious freedom provision in the Constitution by denying all displays.

There is no war on christmas in this country (or any other religious celebrations). But there is a war on religious freedom, and it is being waged by christians who wish to force their religion on all American citizens -- even those who practice another religion or no religion of all. It's unconstitutional and un-American, but then I don't think these people really care. They don't care about anyone's religious rights but their own. Not all christians are like that, but far too many are.

1 comment:

  1. Saying "happy holidays" instead of "merry christmas" is sort of ironic for atheists, since "holiday" is a corruption of "holy day". I just wish people a happy solstice season. I get some odd looks, but I haven't had any christians whine about me attacking christmas yet. They sort of remind me of the robots on the old Star Trek episodes that would overheat, start to smoke, and eventually explode when given some unexpected or conflicting data.

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