Do We Need a Campaign to Defend Christmas?

Published November 22, 2005

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This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," November 21, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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JOHN KASICH, GUEST HOST: In the "Impact" segment tonight, the campaign to defend Christmas, is being led by Reverend Jerry Falwell. Other religious leaders and legal scholars have mobilized promising to file lawsuits and organize boycotts against individuals, schools, government institutions and businesses who discriminate against the upcoming Christian holiday.

Joining us now from Madison, Wisconsin is the Annie Laurie Gaylor. She's the co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. And from Orlando, Florida, Matt Staver. He's the president of the Liberty Council, which started the Friends or Foe Christmas Campaign in 2004.

Matt, let's start with you. When are you going to act? What will cause you to act? And what will you do to take this thing on?

MATTHEW STAVER, LIBERTY COUNSEL: Well, John, our Friend or Foe Christmas campaign is designed to first educate and also provide pro bono legal defense whenever school officials or government officials get intimidating letters to try to censor Christmas out.

We want to first be their friend and educate. And that resolves many of our situations.

On the other hand, we will act and we will go to court whenever education does not resolve the matter. And instead, when government officials intentionally censor out Christmas.

Like we did in Massachusetts, where we had to represent some high school students who were suspended simply for passing out a candy cane to their classmates that contained a card that had a religious message.

Or in Wisconsin, for example, where school officials told the students that they couldn't greet each other with "Merry Christmas" because they said that was religious.

Whenever those kinds of situations occur, and education does not resolve the matter, our Friend or Foe campaign will turn from being a friend, turn from the educational component and the free legal assistance component, to being the foe.

We'll go to court to defend the constitutionality of Christmas. And on our Web site at lc.org, we have a Christmas memo that can be downloaded, that talks about.

KASICH: What's legal. We'll get to that.

STAVER: .what is OK to say to Christmas.

KASICH: We'll get to that.

Ms. Gaylor, what's the problem with what he's saying? It seems to me common sense. I mean, kids walk into to a school and say "Merry Christmas", or they want to pass out some candy canes or for example, they don't want to rewrite the lyrics of "Silent Night".

I mean, what is going on here that people want to take this stuff out? And do you have a problem with what he just said?

ANNIE LAURIE GAYLOR, FREEDOM FROM RELIGION FOUNDATION: I think what's going on is a campaign of intimidation by some radical religious right organizations that think that this is a Christian nation, and that our public schools should not only celebrate certain holidays, but should proselytize students.

KASICH: Now.

GAYLOR: There should always be...

KASICH: Yes.

GAYLOR: ...an educational component to what is taught in our public schools. There should not be a devotional components to what is in our public schools. And that is what they want.

KASICH: So if you think - you think that singing "Silent Night" in a school or do you think greeting each other with "Merry Christmas", is some extreme religious activity in this country?

GAYLOR: I've never heard of that complaint about saying "Merry Christmas" in a school. I suspect there's more to it, if it happened in fact.

But when we have whole Christmas pageants, for example, in public schools where most of the songs are Christian devotional, then I do see a problem.

Our organization, The Freedom from Religion Foundation, does not complain generally speaking when there is only one or two songs with a religious component during public concerts.

But when the whole purpose is to celebrate Christmas, one Christian holiday, then we feel that it crosses the line.

KASICH: All right, Matt, she's making the case that no, no, no, we really don't want to push this thing out unless it's just -- it lands on us like a house. Your reaction to that?

STAVER: Well, Ann knows in her own state just about a year ago, there's a state Christmas tree. And all the different county clerks can send an ornament to the capitol and put an ornament on the tree.

And when one clerk in the state of Wisconsin sent a religious ornament, it was censored. And a federal lawsuit had to be filed just to allow one religious ornament among many secular ornaments on the tree.

That's the kind of situation that we want to educate about it's wrong. And we want to litigate if it persists.

We're not trying to turn the schools into a church or turn these activities into devotions. It's not a devotional activity when a student wants to pass out a Christmas card to a friend. Nor is it a devotional activity when students want to sing songs during a pageant. And they can sing all of the secular songs of the holiday, the great tunes, "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer."

KASICH: Yes.

STAVER: "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas." But they can't sing "Silent Night". Or they have to literally, as we've encountered...

KASICH: All right, Matt.

STAVER: ...bleep out God.

KASICH: Look, Ms. Gaylor, there is a chilling effect. Everybody's trying to drive religion out of the schools. They're trying to drive God out of the schools. I've seen it throughout my lifetime.

With all the troubles that we have...

GAYLOR: There's no God in our public schools.

KASICH: Well, you know, when I was in school, you used to be able to say a prayer in school You used to be able to have Christmas pageants.

You can't do that in many of our schools today. They're trying to ban religious holidays from the school calendar in Florida. The people went up in revolt. What is with all the trouble we have in this society, violence, homelessness, why are we picking on God?

GAYLOR: Nobody is picking on God. If what's going on is these religious groups want to take over the role, the prerogative of parents and churches. And they want to turn the schools into proselytizing zones.

KASICH: No, no, they want to sing Christmas songs.

GAYLOR: Nobody's suing over saying "Merry Christmas."

KASICH: Wait a minute. They want to sing Christmas songs. They want to sing.

GAYLOR: Students don't usually...

KASICH: "Silent Night" and things like that.

GAYLOR: This is parents.

KASICH: And it has been driven out.

GAYLOR: This is parents or religious music teachers. And we do get a lot of complaints about religious music teachers.

This idea that students are going around protesting because they can't sing "Silent Night," I don't believe it. And nobody's actually saying they can't do that. We're saying that they shouldn't be holding any kind of pageant exclusively around one religious holiday.

And in the Madison, Wisconsin school district where I live, for example, they don't have Christmas pageants any more. They have concerts throughout the year. And there is an educational component celebrating diversity.

KASICH: Yes, but you're making my point.

GAYLOR: And what's wrong with that?

KASICH: You're making my point, which is no, they don't have Christmas anymore. And I don't understand it, because there's a war on Christmas with some people in this country, particularly atheists, who get all hot and bothered because somebody wants to say something about God.

Matt, you get the last word.

GAYLOR: Well, let me.

STAVER: Well, Christmas.

GAYLOR: Let me say that the Christian...

STAVER: ...and people of faith should not be disenfranchised from the holiday. There's many components. One of those is secular Jewish. Many others, but clearly, religious as well. And we should not be disenfranchised. That's all we're asking for is equality.

KASICH: Well, Ms. Gaylor, I'll tell you. If you will be reasonable about this, I think we can work things out, but I think we're a long way from being reasonable. But I do appreciate you coming on. Matt, thanks for being on. We'll keep an eye on this.

GAYLOR: I think perhaps you are unreasonable...

KASICH: We've got to run. We've got to run.

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