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KNIGHT: Free speech vs. sound of silence

Secularists wish us a merry non-Christmas

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In George Orwell's futuristic novel "1984," a tyrannical government masks its activities through the use of Newspeak -- saying or doing something opposite of a word's meaning.

The Ministry of Plenty oversees rationing and starvation; the Ministry of Peace wages war; the Ministry of Truth dispenses propaganda; and the Ministry of Love conducts torture. The operative slogans are: "War is peace," "Freedom is slavery," and "Ignorance is strength."

A current variant comes to mind, courtesy of the American Civil Liberties Union's (ACLU) Florida branch, which is threatening to sue the Miami-Dade government for voting to replace a moment of silence before county commission meetings with a prayer.

In other words, the ACLU, self-proclaimed defender of the constitutional freedom of speech, prefers silence, which the formerly cowed commission required for the past several years.

Anthony Verdugo, executive director of the Christian Family Coalition, which lobbied for the change, praised the county commission for "moving into the 21st century" and described the vote as ending "81/2 years of discrimination."

Meanwhile, stuck in 1984, the ACLU will monitor the next few meetings and work up some outrage. Then it will file a lawsuit.

"If prayers are sectarian in nature, the county will be sued," Howard L. Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said in The Miami Herald. "Moving away from a moment of silence is a no-win situation for the county."

Nonsense. Even Congress opens its sessions with prayers. By the way, "sectarian" is Newspeak for mentioning the name of Jesus. The ACLU folks can't actually say they despise Christianity, so they use the blanket term. Occasionally, they'll pick on a publicly displayed menorah, just to pretend that this isn't about eradicating America's Christian heritage from the growing government sector.

Over on the Left Coast, the ACLU's ally, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, won a victory recently when a federal judge ruled that the city of Santa Monica, which had allowed religious-themed, privately erected displays on city property for the past 59 years, could ban them.

As attorney William J. Becker Jr., lead counsel in Santa Monica Nativity Scene Committee v. City of Santa Monica, noted in a recent Washington Times column, although the displays will be constructed nearby on private property, "the First Amendment is not restricted to private property. Refusing to allow people to make their views known in a public park or other traditional public forum is a direct infringement on First Amendment rights."

By deploying only the first half of the First Amendment's guarantee that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," the ACLU and other liberal groups are using the courts to redefine religious speech as second-class, fit only to be uttered on private property and behind closed church doors.

That's why liberals have adopted the red-herring phrase "freedom to worship" to replace "freedom of religion." Nobody is threatening the freedom to worship, but religious freedom and religious speech are under assault daily somewhere in America.

Here's another thing. The Santa Monica complainants based some of their case on the idea that displaying religious items on public property "offends" nonbelievers like them. The newly coined right not to be offended seems to be picking up speed, except when it comes to offending Christians. If you don't think so, consider that more and more public schools are banning any reminder of Christmas at their winter parties and concerts. The absurdity extends to directives to parents not to bring in anything red or green, including napkins, lest it offend someone.

In Newhall, Calif., a property owner actually has ordered a senior citizen housing complex to take down a Christmas tree in a community room because it is a religious symbol.

"For some folks, this is the only Christmas tree they'll have all season," The Willows resident Robert Troudeau told the Los Angeles Daily News. "There are people overseas fighting for our freedoms and dying and we're here fighting over things like this. It's a shame."

Years ago, a group in Orange County, Calif., tried to stop a church from being built with a steeple that sported a cross at the top. Bear in mind that the church was being built on private property. The complainants' argument was that the mere sight of the Christian symbol offended them. They lost, but think about their Orwellian reasoning: In the name of tolerance, the government should ban any outward sign of faith.

In a country in moral free-fall, silence is freedom of speech, religious suppression is tolerance, and atheism is the de facto official religion of the state.

But be of good cheer. Even Orwellian progressives can't put out all the Christmas lights or stop carols from being heard in the malls and department stores. America's retail sector, which depends heavily on Christmas shopping to put it into the black every year, has too much to lose. The clear words of the Constitution continue to be a bulwark against censorship-minded secularists.

We also have it on good authority that the real story of Christmas will never be erased from human consciousness.

In Mark 13:31, Jesus assures us, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away."

Robert Knight is senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a columnist for The Washington Times.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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