Write that down a few hundred times. Say it out loud a few times more. This is important, Virginia, because some would have you believe if you say something often enough and loud enough it becomes truth so -- just in case the theory holds -- let's be sure what we're repeating is actually true.
THERE'S NO WAR ON RELIGION.
THERE'S NO WAR ON CHRISTMAS.
Snopes.com would put a big red FALSE all over it because... it's all made up.
Amazing, isn't it? Because if you did a search on "war on religion" or "war on Christmas," you'd be bombarded with all sorts of links and most would come from the radio stations, periodicals and cable news networks favored by Right Wing Fundamentalist Christians. You remember them, the ones who believe God is a Republican? They're baa-ack.
I'm pretty sure I disabused you of the God-partisanship notion by way of my appropriately titled article: God is Not a Republican published earlier this year. Let's see if we can shine some equally needed clarity on this latest kerfluffle.
People hate change. Hate it. Change-hate is endemic, likely caused by some evolutionary hiccup that suggests change means death while the status quo equates security. Silly, toddler-oriented stuff but we grownups are expected to transcend this developmental stutter to realize change can actually be a boon, or, at the very least, an inevitable fact of life over which we have little control and no choice but to accept and adjust accordingly. But still, we hate it.
So let's go back to the starting point on all this. The inciting incident behind the United States was the fierce and zealous quest for religious freedom. Back in the old Commonwealth there was far too much ungodly micro-management followed by various forms of death and destruction, rampant pillaging and the wanton decimation of perfectly good statuary, all leading to the burning desire of the religiously uncooperative to get the hell out. The plan was to carve out an existence in the new country based on the pure and simple logic of freedom... well, that and Manifest Destiny and its messy imperialistic annihilation of the Native People but that's another article.
Given the religious freedom mandate, it was incumbent upon the Founding Fathers to get it right. Hence, as they were drawing up the business plan for America commonly known as the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, they were generous with the freedom verbiage, resulting in the essential and oft-cited First Amendment.
In a particularly clear and cogent analysis, the Anti-Defamation League put it this way:
The right to freedom of religion is so central to American democracy that it was enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution along with other fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
In order to guarantee an atmosphere of absolute religious liberty, this country's founders also mandated the strict separation of church and state. Largely because of this prohibition against government regulation or endorsement of religion, diverse faiths have flourished and thrived in America since the founding of the republic. Indeed, James Madison, the father of the United States Constitution, once observed that "the [religious] devotion of the people has been manifestly increased by the total separation of the church from the state."
Americans are still among the most religious people in the world. Yet the government plays almost no role in promoting, endorsing or funding religious institutions or religious beliefs. Free from government control -- and without government assistance -- religious values, literature, traditions and holidays permeate the lives of our citizens and, in their diverse ways, form an integral part of our national culture. By maintaining the wall separating church and state, we can guarantee the continued vitality of religion in American life.
Yes, by maintaining religious neutrality in taxpayer-financed environments like public schools and government buildings, we are doing just that: showing respect to all religions by disallowing the religious display of any one at the exclusion of others.
The "war on religion" crowd might argue, "the United States is a Christian country" but history would beg to differ. Conservative columnist and author Richard Brookhiser, who has written prolifically on the history of America, was quoted in the New York Times article How Christian Were the Founders?:
I don't think the Founders would have said they were applying Christian principles to government. What they said was "the laws of nature and nature's God." They didn't say 'We put our faith in Jesus Christ."
That same article states:
"...the founders were rooted in Christianity -- they were inheritors of the entire European Christian tradition -- and at the same time they were steeped in an Enlightenment rationalism that was, if not opposed to religion, determined to establish separate spheres for faith and reason."
In other words, the Founding Fathers did not build a Christian government, they built a government that deigned religion a separate and private matter. And while Christianity may still be the statistical frontrunner amongst American religions, its numbers have greatly diminished as our country grows more and more diverse (even Right leaning Fox News wrote on the topic in Where Have All the Christians Gone?). Not a bad thing, but certainly change.
And here's where we loop back to the "people hate change" part.
All this diversity and cultural evolution with its expectation that we embrace new religions, accept that not everyone believes in a Christian God or wants a crucifix on the courthouse lawn, is utterly exhausting to the status quo. They see it as a denouncement rather than an evolution. They're not hard-wired to openly embrace other beliefs; they're hardwired to circle the wagons, declare their dominance, convert, proselytize, convince; close their eyes to shifting demographics. So inevitable and unavoidable change is not only a bad thing, it's...war.
When the government shows its respect for all religion by adhering to the Constitutional decree to keep government space free from depictions of any one religion over another, it's war. When terms like "Christmas" are eschewed in lieu of "holiday" out of respect for those who don't celebrate the Christian event, it's war. When "Jesus" or "God" references are removed from political speeches or declarations out of respect for those who do not believe in Jesus or God, it's war. And when Christian prayer is not allowed in public schools out of respect for those who are not Christian, oh yeah... it's war.
But tell me, Governor Perry, when you talk about "prayer in school," do you mean all prayer? Would you object to Muslims pulling out prayer rugs and bowing to Mecca? Jews opening their Torah and chanting during lunch hour? Would you mind a Native American prayer dance, a Sikh kirtan, or a New Age affirmation litany?
What you mean, Governor Perry, is you want the prayers of one religion, your religion to be allowed. You want the verbiage, customs, traditions and beliefs of one religion, your religion, to be vaunted over all others because you and those who think like you believe this country belongs to your religion.
It belongs to all of us. Our Founding Fathers insured that we are all blessedly free to practice whatever religion we chose or no religion at all. We are free from expressions of religions we don't espouse being enforced upon us in places and environments funded by our taxes. We'd be wise to keep the question of religion out of elections, understand that ethics and honor are independent of religion, and accept that no religion trumps another.
That's not war, Virginia, that's wisdom. Write that down a hundred times.
And have a really happy... Christmas Holiday!