Why Take Christ Out Of Christmas?
by Steven R. Hemler
The drive to omit any expression of religion from public schools and from the public square is especially apparent during the Christmas season. For example, religious Christmas carols are rarely sung during public school programs. And, the traditional greeting "Merry Christmas" is being replaced by the politically correct "Happy Holidays" in most shopping centers and stores, etc.
Many of us grew up in a different time, when civic centers and public buildings routinely featured not just "Holiday trees," snowmen and Santa Claus, but also Nativity scenes that depicted Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus. No one was being asked to subscribe to belief in the divinity of Christ because of these displays. Rather, they merely acknowledged that the overwhelming majority of citizens celebrated the birth of Jesus.
Today, many are concerned about the secularization of most western societies. It's bad enough that public school children never sing the words to "Silent Night." But, when public school children get two weeks off from school in the dead of winter, and aren't even told the real reason why, we have essentially declared God to be "dead" and irrelevant in our culture.
All this is being done because of the "separation of Church and State" that is supposedly mandated by our laws, for example the United States Constitution. However, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution merely states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." An "establishment of religion" is a church institution that is partially funded through taxes.
When this amendment was adopted in the 1790s, there were "established" churches in several American states. Government money was used to pay the Pastor's salary, build buildings, etc. There are still "established" churches in several European and Islamic countries. However, a tax-funded church can get lazy because it does not need to actively reach out to others. Therefore, the First Amendment, as originally intended, was a good thing for the vitality of religion.
Unfortunately, many are now attempting to re-write the clear intent of the U.S. Constitution from forbidding what it actually says, namely "an establishment of religion" (a noun), into a general prohibition against "the establishment of religion" (a verb).
Since the 1940s, the U.S. Supreme Court has been interpreting the First Amendment to mean that there must be a "wall of separation between Church and State." Most people are not aware that these words do not appear anywhere in the U.S. Constitution. Rather, they are taken from a private letter written by Thomas Jefferson in 1802 to Baptist leaders in Connecticut, which was intended to reassure them that the federal government would not favor one church over another. Unfortunately, today this "separation of church and state" is taken to mean that there must be a "wall" between religion and government - between God and State!
This was evident when the Supreme Court ruled that tax money couldn't be used to support any religious expression (not just direct church expenses). Starting in the 1960s, communal prayer, Bible study, etc., were outlawed in public schools, even though they had been an integral part of these schools for nearly two hundred years! Displays of the Ten Commandments on public property are forcibly removed, even though they have been there for decades. It's as if freedom of religion must become freedom from religion.
What makes the situation even more alarming is the fact that that nearly all religious history and religious viewpoints have been removed from public school classes and textbooks. The only viewpoints presented are "naturalistic" or "secular" viewpoints. These secular viewpoints take the perspective that the physical world (matter and energy, space and time) is all that exists and the whole of reality. This is clearly evident in the prohibition against even mentioning intelligent design as a possible alternative to naturalistic evolution in public school science classrooms. Furthermore, under the guise of "tolerance" and "diversity," nearly all colleges and universities seek to eradicate any mention of God from the academy.
However, nearly everyone believes the spiritual world (God, heaven, hell, our eternal soul, life after death, etc.) exists, too. But, these things are rarely discussed in any public school. This is unfair and treats God as if He does not exist. It's as if we have nothing to learn from Him or about Him. This is viewpoint discrimination and obvious censorship - of God!
There is clearly no easy answer to church-state issues in pluralistic societies. However, making secularism a society's "official religion," by eradicating God from the public square, is not the best or only answer. Instead of celebrating religious freedom and diversity, many supposedly tolerant nations are becoming increasingly intolerant of any expression of religion in the public square. Why the double standard?
Also see: Merry Chris - - - Uh, oh. Excuse me. Happy Holiday by Rich Maffeo
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Copyright © Steve Hemler. Steve Hemler has been involved in youth ministry, pro-life political activism and religious education. His articles have been published in America, Liguorian, Church, Modern Liturgy, Religion Teacher's Journal, Liturgical Catechesis, and National Review.