The New York Times in a recent article chided Donald Trump and others who insist there is a war on Christmas in America.
While physical assault on Christmas decorators may not be what defenders of public celebration of the holiday have in mind, there were two such incidents recently.
And, more to the point, the dispute over the meaning of “Congress shall make no law establishing a religion” is certainly alive in schools, on government land and in other areas of public accommodation.
In Decatur, Illinois, 43-year-old Gregory Seitz allegedly battered a woman when she asked him to help hang Christmas decorations.
And three men in Philadelphia were hanging Christmas lights when they were shot after getting into an argument with a passing motorist, police said.
The New York Times reported Trump stood in front of a line of Christmas trees at a rally in Wisconsin last week and repeated a campaign-trail staple.
“When I started 18 months ago, I told my first crowd in Wisconsin that we are going to come back here some day and we are going to say ‘Merry Christmas’ again,” he said. “Merry Christmas. So, Merry Christmas everyone. Happy New Year, but Merry Christmas.”
The Times insisted there is “no evidence of an organized attack on Christmas in the United States,” citing longtime contrarian Rev. Barry W. Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
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Lynn said the annual uproar is based on “stories that only sometimes even contain a grain of truth and often are completely false.”
But this season, once again, has seen numerous well-documented instances of efforts to censor the public celebration of Christmas.
And many among the upcoming generation of leaders appear eager to join the effort.
The Campus Reform news site, which describes itself as a watchdog of higher education, sent reporters to the campus of the University of Virginia to see what would happen if they asked students to sign a petition to ban Christmas.
Nearly 20 students signed it within two hours.
The journalists created a faux group called Students for an Inclusive Holiday Season and asked students to sign a petition getting rid of school references to Christmas because of the holiday’s “oppressive” and “triggering” nature, Campus Reform said.
The website noted schools across the country have banned even such innocuous Christmas decorations as evergreen trees and images of Santa because they could be interpreted as being “non-inclusive.”
“This time of year, it feels like people can shove their holiday happiness in your face, like ‘Merry Christmas!’ and it just gets kind of old,” said one of the Campus Reform reporters, Cabot Phillips, to a student, who agreed.
The other reporter, Amber Athey, told a group of students that the faux student organization was sending a letter to the administration to let them know that the overt celebration of Christmas can be “almost oppressive” for some students on campus.
“I will totally sign,” a female student responded.
Athey explained to a student: “I know a lot of students who aren’t religious, so when they see the Christmas trees and all the lights it can be a bit triggering, so we’re just trying to make campus a safe space for them.”
The student replied: “Cool, well good luck.”
The Campus Reform reporters suggested to students that Trump’s victory had emboldened Christmas enthusiasts. Some students agreed that it seemed they were hearing “Merry Christmas” more than ever before.
“It can be scary for some students,” Athey observed as a petition signer nodded.
Christmas stripped from senior home
In Joplin, Missouri, the owner of a senior housing project removed Christmas decorations from common areas, explaining that because it received funds from the federal government, it must follow the Federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination by housing providers on the basis of race, religion, sex, national origin, familial status or disability, the Joplin Globe reported.
“It was like somebody brought in a vacuum cleaner and sucked the joy out,” Hopper said.
Nearly 50 residents signed a petition asking that they be allowed to “celebrate Christmas as we deem fit and to put up any and all decorations as we desire in all the common areas.”
Springfield, Missouri, attorney Dee Wampler said there is no constitutional problem with the displays, citing a 1984 U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld the right of a nonprofit group to put up a Nativity scene in a shopping district.
“The Supreme Court said the celebration of Christmas, including the Nativity, is constitutional,” Wampler said. “That law is still good, and there has never been a case that has ruled that Christmas is unconstitutional.”
But Kate Peterson, spokeswoman for Mercy Housing Inc., the company that owns the facility, said the policy likely won’t change.
Residents can decorate their own apartment as they wish, but “because of the way the Fair Housing rules work, any decorations have to be religion neutral [in shared spaces],” she said.
“So Mercy Housing, as most other property owners, does not allow religiously themed decorations in the common areas at any time of the year.”
Related column: “Where have all the Christmas decorations gone?” by Dennis Prager
It’s not Christmas here, Charlie Brown
Officials in a Texas school district ordered a staffer to remove her handmade decoration that depicted a scene from the classic holiday TV special “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
Dedra Shannon, a nurse’s aide for the Killeen Independent School District, put a handmade poster on her door featuring the famous Peanuts comic strip character Linus quoting a Bible verse, Luke 2:11, as his interpretation of the true meaning of Christmas.
Luke 2:11 says: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior which is Christ the Lord.”
Under the verse was written Linus’ quote, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
The school board voted 6-1 on Dec. 13 to back its principals decision to censor the poster, the Killeen Daily Herald reported.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, however, filed suit to have Shannon’s door decoration restored, citing the state’s 2013 “Merry Christmas law,” which doesn’t allow schools to “silence a biblical reference to Christmas.”
Federal Judge Jack Jones ruled that the display should be put back up with an added line calling it “Ms. Shannon’s Christmas message.”
“Once again, public schools have decided that their commitment to diversity does not extend to Christians,” Paxton said. “Neither faculty nor students shed their constitutional rights when they step inside the schoolhouse door.”
Paxton said the law “in fact encourages school districts to take an inclusive approach to religious and secular celebrations that are both respectful and accepting of different viewpoints.”
The Merry Christmas Law says school districts are allowed to display symbols associated with traditional winter celebrations if the display includes a symbol of more than one religion or includes a secular symbol. No messages encouraging adherence to a particular religious belief are permitted
The school district contends the poster would need to have secular symbols or other religious traditions.
But Paxton argued the law “explicitly grants school districts the option of educating its students about traditional winter holidays, the meaning of these holidays, and how they are referenced in history and pop culture, which ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ certainly satisfies.”
The nonprofit Liberty Counsel, which praised the judge’s decision, said it has launched its 14th annual “Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign,” pledging to be a “friend” to those who recognize Christmas and a “foe” to those who censor it.
Liberty Counsel said the aim is to educate and if necessary go to court to ensure that Christmas and Christian themes are not censored.
The organization provides a memorandum to offer guidance regarding publicly and privately sponsored religious holiday displays, religious holidays in public schools and the rights of public school students in the context of religious holidays.
Liberty Counsel also has a “Naughty & Nice List” that catalogs retailers that recognize and those that censor Christmas.