Pretty soon the Christmas wars will be on again. We’ll see headlines about schools banning Christmas carols, towns banning Christmas trees, and department stores banning the words “Merry Christmas.” So this book by Fox News anchor John Gibson could hardly be more timely.
This is a book that will really tick you off. Even if you’re the kind of Christian who can’t abide “shopping mall Christmas” — Santa Claus, snowmen, reindeer, etc. — Gibson wants you to know that for those who direct the war on Christmas, there’s no difference between the popularized, secularized, beat-you-over-the-head-with-it commercial Christmas and the most profound religious understanding of the birth of Jesus Christ. To them, it’s all just “Christianity,” and according to Gibson, that’s what they’re out to purge from American public life.
The ungodly have never been more terrified of that baby in the manger, the Christ child, than they are today. They are truly the children of Herod, who sought to destroy the child to prevent Him from being king in Israel.
For today’s secularists, it’s very much about who shall be king in America: themselves or Jesus Christ.
Torn from the Headlines
Gibson is a newsman, not a sociologist. He tells his story in a series of actual news events from recent years.
- Covington, Georgia, 2002: The word “Christmas” is banned from the school calendar.
- Mustang, Oklahoma, 2004: School district bans annual Christmas pageant.
- Baldwin City, Kansas, 2003: “Santa Claus visits” banned from schools.
- Plano, Texas, 2001 and ongoing: School district bans the colors red and green.
- Eugene, Oregon, 2000: Christmas trees banned from municipal offices.
- Indianapolis, Indiana, 2003: Christmas trees banned from law school campus.
- Maplewood, New Jersey, 2004: Schools ban instrumental-only versions of Christmas carols.
Each of these incidents rates its own chapter, in which Gibson explores in depth the reasons given for the ban, the public reaction to it, and its place in the larger campaign to ban Christmas altogether. He personally interviewed individuals involved on both sides of each local controversy. It’s a fine job of reporting.
Why Do They Do It?
“So Many Christians. So Few Lions.”
So read a bumper sticker Gibson saw on a car in Eugene, Oregon.
The “war,” he concludes, is “worse than you thought … because it’s really a war on Christianity,” born of “a desire … to push Christianity into a place … where it is hidden” (p. 163). But on the local level, Gibson found some other factors at work.
First is the fear of a lawsuit, often motivated by the actual threat of one, usually by the American Civil Liberties Union. The law permits the ACLU to recoup its costs from the towns and school districts it sues; so even if no punitive damages are assessed, the defendant still can’t afford to lose the lawsuit because these legal costs can run to millions of dollars.
This kind of outcome can literally ruin a small town or school district. In Covington, Georgia, and Baldwin City, Kansas, the ACLU’s threats made school officials cave in quickly.
Absent a threat, there is the fear of a lawsuit. In Mustang, Oklahoma, Christmas was banned from the schools — while “Kwanzaa,” a completely artificial “holiday” created by black militants a few years ago, was retained — because “lawsuit talk” was in the air, and school officials were afraid of losing their district’s insurance coverage. (As a former reporter who has sat in on such deliberations, I can safely say that very few things scare local officials as badly as the prospect of losing the town’s insurance coverage. It sets the stage for total financial ruin.)
Then there are those who hope to forestall even the possibility of a lawsuit by removing all potential provocation. Although Plano, Texas, is a vigorous Christian community, home to several mega-churches, school officials thought they were playing it safe by banning the colors red and green. Their zeal extended to forbidding students and staff to say “Merry Christmas,” changing “Christmas vacation” to “winter festival,” and calling the police when a little girl gave a friend a pencil with the name of Jesus on it.
Finally, there are local officials, like the ones in Eugene, Oregon, who really believe in promoting “diversity” by shutting down all public expressions of the Christian faith. And there are those — like the superintendent of schools in Maplewood, New Jersey, described by Gibson as “a serial Christmas killer” — who seem to have a fervent vocation for erasing signs of Christmas.
Although many of these officials profess to be Christians, and celebrate Christmas at home with their families, they are all, says Gibson, “amateur constitutional law practitioners who get way out ahead of the Supreme Court of the United States when it comes to banning Christmas” (p. 163).
Behind them all is a well-orchestrated campaign of disinformation and intimidation by the ACLU. A retired past president of the ACLU flatly denied this in an interview with Gibson, but current ACLU officers refused to talk to him. After examining the ACLU’s actions and language, Gibson chose not to believe the denials.
Sometimes, increasingly often, the Christmas bans backfire on officials and “all hell breaks loose” in the community (p. 87). In Eugene, public opposition was so strong that the Christmas tree ban had to be revoked, and the city manager went into early retirement.
More and more, Gibson notes, attorneys from Christian legal foundations are getting involved in these cases and either defeating the ACLU in court or convincing local officials that their actions go far beyond what the law requires. Groups like the Alliance Defense Fund, Liberty Legal Institute, and others are training attorneys specifically for this work.
Gibson devotes a chapter to introducing the reader to founders and attorneys from these groups, with interviews of nine of them. All blamed the war on Christmas on the ACLU. The ACLU often has a weak case, they say, but officials usually give in to threats and intimidation.
“Christmas is the new litmus test of the nation’s willingness to abide by its own Constitution,” Gibson writes. “[T]he counter-revolution is gearing up … The Christians are coming to retake their place in the public square, and the most natural battleground in this war is Christmas” (p. 186).
Well and good: we certainly don’t want secular pharisees telling us we can’t say “Merry Christmas.” We’re glad there are Christian lawyers who are ready and willing to take on the ACLU.
But what are so many Christian children doing in these secular schools in the first place? Gibson is aware of this question. In 1907, he writes, Jewish students — a large chunk of the school population — walked out on New York City’s public schools to protest the aggressively Protestant character of the curriculum. By 1908, the schools were non-sectarian, and the Jewish students returned.
If they could do it 100 years ago, Christians can do it today. Beyond a certain point, the public schools cannot afford to lose students.
It’s all very well to defend the Christmas tree, but we have an infinitely more important obligation to proclaim the Lordship of Christ. Just because secularists can’t tell the difference between Jesus Christ and Santa Claus doesn’t absolve us of our responsibilities.
We believe the answer to the corruption of the public schools is homeschooling and private Christian schools. What does it profit us if the schools allow red and green napkins but continue to teach our children, day in and day out, that our Christian beliefs are out-of-date, hateful, and wrong?
When our towns try to ban Christmas displays, we can treat that as a legal matter and probably win in court. But as long as we allow ourselves to be conned into believing that God’s Word does not apply to public life — that it’s something we must leave behind in our homes and in our churches when we go out to work, vote, or exercise public office ourselves — we will have shirked our duty and won nothing.