The baby in the Bethlehem manger has become politically incorrect and wishing someone “Merry Christmas” can be viewed as a civil rights violation, John Gibson argues in his book “The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought.”
Mr. Gibson, host of “The Big Story” on Fox News Channel, says groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are attempting to “ban the sacred Christian holiday.” The following are excerpts of a telephone interview with Mr. Gibson:
Q: According to your subtitle, there’s a liberal plot to ban Christmas.
A: The liberal plot is ensconced in various places. … It’s a bunch of like-minded thinkers. You find it in the secular Humanist Manifesto No. 3, you find it in the pronouncements of the American Union for the Separation of Church and State, and you find it in the frequently-asked-questions sections of various ACLU Web sites. I call it a plot, in that they’re planning all this.
Here’s where I disagree with them. These guys are on the left side of the First Amendment. I don’t mean left-wing, politically. The phrase that says, “Congress shall make no law [respecting an establishment of] religion.” I tend to look at the right side, which follows the comma: “Nor prohibit the free exercise thereof.” And I think that when they argue that schools, public parks, libraries and city halls should consider a Christmas tree or Santa Claus as the celebration of religion, and therefore it has to be banned, that they are involved in the prohibition of free exercise. These are secular symbols.
Q: What are some examples of secularization?
A: The worst example of all of this is renaming things out of existence. You see this controversy this year about renaming the Christmas holiday as just “holidays,” renaming Christmas trees as a “holiday tree” or “friendship tree” or “giving tree.” Or, as Martha Stewart says, the “Mount Holly tree.” One of the big renaming projects in this country is renaming the Christmas break in schools to the “winter break.”
Q: You write that the ACLU has been providing the “legal muscle and pretzel logic” in the war. How are they doing that?
A: They threaten: “We’re willing to litigate this. We realize the court has not said this is illegal, but we’re willing to make a case for it nonetheless.” And if you follow the trail of crumbs, you arrive at a conclusion that they say this and they get away with it because organizations like schools and libraries and so forth are just afraid of incurring litigation costs and, perhaps, losing and having to pay the ACLU’s litigation costs.
Q: When people say “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” aren’t they just being polite? Where do you draw the line?
A: I draw the line at governmental action. There’s a whole bunch of stuff going on that are sort of social conventions about greetings. “Merry Christmas,” or “Happy holidays,” or “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy Ramadan,” or whatever the expression might be. Coca-Cola doesn’t have Santa Claus on a label this year. …
The reason I draw the line here is these institutions can do what they want. A big retailer at a mall can do what they want. The public is also free not to go in or not patronize them. That’s different in a place where some petty official has the power to make the law. You see all this stuff going on in the malls, among retailers, and there’s been a big public outcry. And it’s been effective.
Q: You might expect Easter, with its emphasis on Resurrection, to come under heavier fire than Christmas. Why is Christmas the primary target?
A: Because it lasts so long, and it’s a big presence in our society. People have objections to it on other bases. For instance, the commercialization of it. … People want to say it’s overcommercialized. I don’t disagree. I don’t think, therefore, you can’t put up a Christmas tree in the school, or Santa can’t come visit the kids because he’s an overtly religious figure. Christmas comes under attack because it’s so pervasive, it has so many tentacles into the society. I can’t speak for Christians in general, but [Easter] seems like it might be, religiously, more important. But it goes by quickly. It happens and then it’s gone. Christmas lingers for an awfully long time. So it has kind of a big footprint on the calendar and it tends to irritate.
Q: Is Christmas the only holiday targeted in this way?
A: The thing that happens in most places with Hanukkah, Muslim holidays, Hindu holidays — other religions are presented in school as matters of cultural interest [students] ought to be educated on. No problem. Good idea. But Christianity and Christmas are treated as pure religion. Any mention of them is treated as proselytizing. That’s where the problem is. … Education about other things, but no discussion of Christmas at all because it’s just strictly a religious matter.
Q: Why is everyone so afraid of offending people these days?
A: I am told that the concept of the offended observer is drawn from some side-commentary in a Supreme Court decision by [Justice] Sandra Day O’Connor. … But the offended observer has now been raised to veto status by the ACLU and others: “Hey, if there’s anybody around who objects, it’s got to end.”
There’s nothing I can find empowering the offended observer to legally veto what the majority would like to do in the way of putting up a tree, or having a Christmas break. The reason always given is a sense of inclusiveness, and not wanting to offend. Those are all fine impulses. But I have never heard “Merry Christmas” hurled as an insult. I have never seen a tree put up to offend. I think the offended observers are being a tad too thin-skinned.
Q: You write that the war on Christmas is really a war on Christians.
A: This is the other aspect of what’s going on. When I asked people, “Why did you ban this Christmas tree?” or, “Why did you fire Santa?” … they would say, kind of just blandly, “Because it’s Christian.” They wouldn’t say that about any other religion.
There’s this kind of accepted, casual bias against Christians, and I think it’s mostly because of politics, because conservative Christians have gotten behind certain political questions, like abortion or gay marriage. People are opposed to them politically, and therefore they feel no compunction about transferring their hostility to the way they treat these holidays. You hear people say, “Christians should take it indoors. We don’t want you guys in our face.”