The New York Times recently published an article purporting to trace the history of the “War on Christmas.” The article concludes that “there is no evidence of an organized attack on Christmas in the United States,” and expressed skepticism about the “alleged liberal antagonism toward the holiday.”
As the author would tell it, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly stirred up the passions of his viewers based on a book written in 2005 by another Fox News host, John Gibson, entitled “The War on Christmas.”
John Gibson interviewed me for that book, and I detailed the legal battles I and others had fought against Christmas censorship from the mid-1980s. I even wrote a book in 1987 on the topic that detailed ongoing efforts to suppress celebrating or observing the religious aspects of Christmas – the birth of Jesus Christ.
I can confidently say that the “War on Christmas” was not concocted by people at Fox News in 2005. It really happened. I know because I was there.
Here are three ways the New York Times article got it wrong about the “War on Christmas”:
1. The “War On Christmas” is real, and started well before Fox News even existed
Here’s just one example. When I worked at Concerned Women for America, we litigated a case against the Seminole County, Florida School District in 1985 in which officials at the Tuscawilla Middle School removed the songs, “Silent Night” and “Hanukkah Dance” from the middle school choir concert on the objection of one parent.
Officials at another school in the same district at a different school stopped a second grader, Olivia Myers, from passing out homemade Christmas cards to her classmates because they had a sticker of Jesus on them.
At another middle school in the district, the PTA sponsored a contest to decorate classroom doors. The two students selected to create the art for one classroom door chose a nativity scene of Jesus’ birth, and the teacher ordered it removed because of perceived Establishment Clause concerns.
Just before trial, we settled the case out of court with the school district changing its policy to allow school music programs to “contain music that is religious in nature.” It also allowed the school to “use themes traditionally associated with a particular holiday season” and to allow classroom displays of religious themes if they were not prompted by the teacher and contained nonreligious symbols. And the school paid some monetary damages to the students involved.
I litigated this case. It was not made up by Fox News (which did not exist until 1996) or by anyone else. And this is not an isolated incident. The ACLU and its allies provoked many more examples of Christmas censorship with its lawsuits.
2. The ACLU filed numerous lawsuits to suppress public observances of Christmas
Beginning in the 1970’s, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed many lawsuits to stop Christmas observances in public schools, city halls, and other governmental entities. The New York Times quotes a carefully worded statement by an ACLU spokesperson that downplays the concerted efforts the ACLU and its allies engaged in to censor Christmas in public venues in the past. The ACLU’s efforts were real and systematic. They created an atmosphere of fear and intimidation and disinformation about what the law said about Christmas.
The ACLU has filed suit to keep school districts from singing religious Christmas carols. It has also filed suits to prevent the display of nativity scenes and other Christmas symbols like a Christmas tree and a menorah.
The ACLU lost a major case it filed in 1980 to eliminate the singing of religious Christmas carols in public schools. A federal appeals court ruled that singing religious songs could have a legitimate pedagogical purpose in a public school. In fact, there is no court decision anywhere that says it is unconstitutional to sing religious songs, including Christmas carols, in public schools. Yet many people wrongly believe that. When I spoke about this topic, I would carry a copy of the court decision ruling against the ACLU’s extreme views to show disbelieving audience members that it existed.
In another case the ACLU lost, the Supreme Court upheld the city’s use of the nativity scene because it also contained a number of secular Christmas symbols, such as Santa’s sleigh and carolers. However, the Supreme Court did declare in another ACLU lawsuit in 1989 that a nativity scene violates the Constitution, adding to the cultural zeitgeist that celebrating Christmas publicly was somehow inappropriate.
So the ACLU conducted a litigation campaign to suppress the observance of Christmas in public schools and other government venues. Some of the cases succeeded, but many failed. And all of these cases occurred well before the existence of Fox News. These are just a few examples.
3. People resisted the “War on Christmas” because they knew firsthand it was real
Fox News did not rile up gullible people to fight a war against Christmas that did not exist. This out-of-touch thinking by the New York Times assumes that most people who watch Fox News are easily manipulated. People responded to John Gibson’s book and Bill O’Reilly’s protests against these efforts to suppress Christmas because they had experienced it firsthand.
Many knew from their own experience that businesses, feeling that social pressure, began ordering their workers to say “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.” That happened to me. In the early 2000’s, I was flying on Continental Airlines in December. As we landed, the flight attendant wished us all, “Happy Holidays” over the intercom. As we disembarked, I asked the flight attendant if Continental Airlines would allow her to say, “Merry Christmas” to the passengers on the plane. “Oh no,” she said. “I would be written up if I did that.”
Alliance Defending Freedom looked into this matter and others like it. We saw many such instances around the nation. We also learned that 92% of all Americans – which includes many non-Christians – celebrate Christmas. Even so, businesses who are free to have their employees wish people a Merry Christmas opted to suppress the greeting. Many public schools violated the freedom of speech rights of their students by censoring their Christmas art projects and Christmas carols.
In 2003, the problem became so widespread that ADF formally launched an effort to combat the fear, intimidation and disinformation spread by the ACLU and its allies via these Christmas censorship lawsuits – two years before John Gibson published his book.
And we’ve had some success. The more extreme forms of Christmas censorship that we saw 10 and 20 years ago seem to be receding, due to the efforts by ADF and many others to bring a balanced, reasonable approach to the Christmas observances. People agreed with ADF and Fox News and others that the War on Christmas was real and wanted an end to hostilities.
Our increasingly diverse nation tends to fragment unless we have common values or touch points that bring us together. A holiday that points us to love one another as God first loved us, and has us give generously to others is something many people think worthy of preserving and that everyone benefits by doing so. That is why so many people agreed to resist the efforts to suppress the religious aspects of Christmas.
The New York Times missed this important aspect of this cultural phenomenon with its scoffing denial that Christmas censorship ever happened. So, next time the New York Times runs a piece like this, perhaps its author should talk to people who were actually in the fight, not just those who started it.