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Push back against the right's "War on Christmas"

Religious leaders push back against right's "War on Christmas"

by Bill Berkowitz

Coalition of religious leaders urges Bill O'Reilly and other Christmas Warriors to consider a cease fire

Over the past few years, the "War on Christmas" -- a shared project of the Religious Right and the Fox News Channel - has become as much a part of the holiday season as the showing of Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life" and Charles Schulz`s "A Charlie Brown Christmas" on television every year.

Now, after a few years of sitting on the sidelines while an assortment of conservative Christian leaders and Fox's talking heads grinched and groaned about a so-called "War on Christmas," some Christian leaders have decided to fight back - and they're doing it with an interesting twist; placing the emphasis on peace and charity this holiday season.

Today, according to a press release issued yesterday by Faith in Public Life, a group of religious leaders are placing advertisements in the Washington Times and the New York Post "challenging Bill O'Reilly of Fox News and others who have lashed out against a so-called secular `War on Christmas' to join them in a new campaign that restores a focus on the common good during this holy season."

"War on Christmas" good for religious right's bottom lineL

Last year, the Alliance Defense Fund, American Family Association, Focus on the Family, and Concerned Women for America banded together for a special Christmas Project. "Chief on its agenda," Religion News Service reported at the time, "is a list of `nice' retailers that use the word `Christmas' in their stores and catalogues and `naughty' ones that do not."

The "War on Christmas" apparently has been good for the bottom line of several conservative Christian organizations. In 2006, the American Family Association maintained that it sold more than 500,000 buttons and 125,000 bumper stickers bearing the slogan "Merry Christmas: It's Worth Saying." The Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal aid group that boasts a network of some 900 lawyers standing ready to "defend Christmas," says it has moved about 20,000 "Christmas packs" - two legal pins and a three-page legal memo given for a $29 donation. And Liberty Counsel, a conservative law firm affiliated with the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, said it distributed for free 16,000 legal memos on celebrating Christmas.

The problem with Christmas in the US of A, according to an "Open Letter to Christmas Culture Warriors" -- signed onto by a group of Catholic social justice leaders, priests, religious sisters and evangelical Christians -- is not that some department stores use "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" in their holiday advertising. Nor is it so-called efforts to removal of Christmas celebrations from the public square by liberals/atheists.

"We believe the real assault on Christmas is how a season of peace, forgiveness and goodwill has been sidelined by a focus on excessive consumerism," the letter states. "The powerful message Christ brings to the world is `good news for the poor.' Instead, Christmas is being reduced to a corporate-sponsored holiday that idolizes commerce and materialism."

Urging Fox's talking heads to take the high road

A press release issued on Monday, December 3, by Faith in Public Life, a not-for-profit nonpartisan 501(c) (3) communications and organizing resource center "dedicated to reclaiming the values debate in America ... [and] strengthen[ing] and increase[ing] the visibility of faith leaders dedicated to justice and the common good," points out religious leaders "are challenging Bill O'Reilly of Fox News and others who have lashed out against a so-called secular `War on Christmas' to join them in a new campaign that restores a focus on the common good during this holy season."

The group's "Open Letter to Christmas Culture Warriors" is to be published as an advertisement in the December 4 issue of New York Post and Washington Times and in the December 14 issue of the National Catholic Reporter,

Faith in Public Life's press release notes that Fox News commentator John Gibson's 2005 book, The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday is Worse Than You Thought, "denounced what he and other pundits describe as a secular agenda intent on destroying Christmas and driving religion from the public square." William Donohue, executive director of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, "has warned of `cultural fascists' taking over Christmas" and Fox's top talking head, Bill O'Reilly, "has made the `War on Christmas' a prominent seasonal feature of his popular Fox broadcast."

Christianity Today's Ted Olsen recently described the evolution of the battles surrounding the Christmas season this way:

The Christmas wars have changed focus in the last few years. There are still the reruns of fights over displaying nativity scenes, stars of Bethlehem, and less religious displays like Christmas trees on government-run spaces. Hundreds of lawyers are standing by, waiting for a city council to squelch caroling or a school principal to crush a candy-cane handout.

But since 2005, when the "war on Christmas" reached a fever pitch, some organizations and many individual Christians have put more emphasis on the season's greeting. At the grocery store last year, I was surprised by the indignation of a fellow shopper when the clerk wished her "Happy Holidays." The woman glowered for a moment, then responded, without a hint of merriment, "Merry Christmas."

Honoring the words of Christ

"Christmas marks a season of hope, peace and the light of justice illuminating the dark corners of our world," said Alexia Kelley, executive director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.

"At a time when soldiers and innocent civilians are dying in a real war in Iraq and 37 million Americans live still in poverty we should be focusing on those moral scandals not having petty shouting matches on television about a supposed `secular conspiracy' to subvert Christmas."

"When we consider the true meaning of Christmas, its sacredness is not validated by prescribed greetings or slogans in department stores," said Rev. Derrick Harkins, Senior Pastor of the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, DC, and a Board member of the evangelical humanitarian relief agency World Relief, "If we are truly serious about the importance of Christmas, we will remember that its message of love and hope was shared with disenfranchised shepherds first, which should prompt us to be far more concerned with how the season is shared in word and deed with the poor and hurting among us."


For more please see the Bill Berkowitz archive.
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.

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