December 16, 1996

Who's really threatened by religious expression?

By Steve Scroggins


The "money-changers" of Christmas once again beseech us to spend in the name of "holiday spirit." Many people condemn the crass commercialism that attends Christmas. I contend that efforts to dilute Christmas meaning stem from motives more sinister than mere capitalism.

Is it coincidental that Santa, Rudolph, ornate trees, lights and Frosty the Snowman have become the most prevalently displayed symbols of Christmas---eclipsing Nativity scenes or other references to Christ's birth?

Friends and family send me "Merry Christmas" cards. Salesmen and vendors send innocuous cards with "Season's Greetings" or "Happy Holidays." Presumably, these phrases won't offend non-Christians or the non-religious who might be discomforted by the "Christ" reference. After all, the phrase "Happy Hanukkah or Merry Christmas or whatever" is just too clumsy and too risky.

But what does "Season's Greetings" mean? Is it an abbreviated way of saying, "Happy Winter Solstice and any other religious/social event, if any, you choose to note?" The modern connotation of "holiday" is no longer "holy day," but rather time off from work. Accordingly, "Happy Holidays" could mean "Enjoy a few days of lazy, materialistic gluttony."

Striving not to offend is admirable, but the linguistic perversion known as "political correctness" dictates that any phrasing with religious significance might offend someone. Meaningless mush is safer.

A constitutional prohibition against establishing an official religion somehow came to mean that any display on public property must be free of religious meaning. Religious expression, most especially Christian, has become a threat to someone's rights. Most everyone favors religious tolerance and protecting minority groups against unreasonable oppression by the majority (Christians), but restraining religious expression with government force often yields bizarre and ridiculous results when common sense is not employed---a frequent tendency of our judiciary.

More annoying than the misguided, secularist judiciary are the hyper-sensitive victims, miffed that anyone else has found meaning in their lives. Their life's purpose seems to be finding "offenders" and seeking court injunctions against them.

Rachel Bauchman attended a public high school in Salt Lake City, Utah. As the only Jew in the choir, she took offense when asked to sing Christian carols. She asked the school to change the songs. They declined but offered her an "A" in music class during which she could stay in the library.

A reasonable---some might say generous---compromise would not do. She sued. The court enjoined the school. During the recital, audience members, annoyed by the court interference, started singing the forbidden Christian songs.

The moral of this story is that tolerance is a two-way street. Despite future Supreme Court findings to the contrary, there is no right to choir singing in the Constitution. Miss Bauchman should have opted not to sing the "offensive" Christian songs or not to sing at all.

Columnist Mona Charen explained her approach as a Jew asked to sing Christian hymns. She simply stopped singing during lyrics contrary to her beliefs. Charen added, "It is never religious Jews who bring cases like this, challenging the constitutionality of creches or carols. Religious Jews are so well grounded in their own faith that they do not feel threatened by that of others."

It's the secularists in our society and especially our government that feel threatened by religion. One example brought to the floor of the House is a memo from the U.S. Forestry Service titled, "Harassment Alert." In effect, it prohibited Christmas displays in Forestry Service offices as possibly "harassing" to non-Christians.

That sounds like the defunct Soviet Union's version of religious freedom: You may practice your religion so long as you keep it to yourself.

The sinister motive for diluting religion is, of course, power. Government loses some of its power when its citizens recognize a higher power.

Regarding those who want to ban public religious expression or displays, I submit that it's they who are extreme, it's they who are intolerant and it's they who are not "correct."


 Copyright 1996 Steve Scroggins - All rights reserved.

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"Like it or not, American Jews -- like American Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and atheists -- ARE different from their neighbors. This IS a Christian country -- it was founded by Christians and built on broad Christian principles. Threatening? Far from it: It is in precisely this Christian country that Jews have known the most peaceful, prosperous, and successful existence in their long history. In America, a non-Christian need not answer 'Amen' to an explicitly Christian prayer. We are free to remain silent -- a freedom that countless Jews, living in far less tolerant times and places, could only dream of. This is a society where members of minority faiths live and worship without fear, secure in the hospitality and liberty that America extends to all religions. ... Religious diversity does not mean that no American should ever have to listen to prayers that are different from his own. On the contrary: It means that no American is entitled to try to suppress the prayers of others. 'Jesus' should not be a forbidden word in this land. Not even at a presidential inauguration." --Jeff Jacoby (syndicated columnist)