Wednesday, December 21, 2016

From the Archives: Charlottesville lawyers compile rules against ‘politically correct’ Xmas

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on December 21, 2011. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016. I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Charlottesville lawyers compile rules against ‘politically correct’ Xmas

Presidential candidate Rick Perry recently raised some hackles – and generated dozens of parodies – when he stated on a campaign video that “You don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.”

Perry was reflecting a meme that emerges year after year, seemingly with greater urgency in the past decade or so, that social or political forces are being applied to suppress the celebration of Christmas – not just in schools but in the wider public square, as well.

Christmas was illegal

It does not take much of a history lesson to find out that suppression of Christmas celebrations was much more common – and much more painful – in the early days of the United States than at any time in the twentieth or twenty-first centuries.

As University of Virginia historian Peter Onuf put it on the public radio program, BackStory with the American History Guys, “the Puritans' approach to Christmas was not low key -- it was no key. In fact, they actually banned it, made it illegal.”

Along the same lines, “New England’s War on Christmas” was the title of the first chapter of historian Stephen Nissebaum’s 1997 book, The Battle for Christmas.

Expanding on Onuf's point, Nissebaum informatively and dispassionately upends some widely-held misconceptions about the pedigree of the “traditional” Christmas:

“In New England, for the first two centuries of white settlement most people did not celebrate Christmas. In fact, the holiday was systematically suppressed by Puritans during the colonial period and largely ignored by their descendants. It was actually illegal to celebrate Christmas in Massachusetts between 1659 and 1681 (the fine was five shillings). Only in the middle of the nineteenth century did Christmas gain legal recognition as an official public holiday…”

‘Twelve rules of Christmas’

Still, bureaucrats being bureaucrats, there are times that it may appear that the government is trying to obstruct, if not ban outright, the celebration of Christmas and other winter holidays.

Coming to the rescue of people who find themselves in an uncomfortable situation vis-à-vis school superintendents, parks administrators, or local elected officials is the Charlottesville-based public interest law firm, the Rutherford Institute.

This month, the institute’s lawyers compiled a list of the “twelve rules of Christmas,” saying that “unfortunately, Christmas has become a time of controversy over what can or cannot be done in terms of celebrating the holiday.” The rules aim “to clear up much of the misunderstanding” that has arisen in recent years.

Here are four examples from the list:

“Public school students’ written or spoken personal expressions concerning the religious significance of Christmas (e.g., T-shirts with the slogan, ‘Jesus Is the Reason for the Season’) may not be censored by school officials absent evidence that the speech would cause a substantial disruption.”

“Public schools may not require students to sing Christmas songs whose messages conflict with the students’ own religious or nonreligious beliefs.”

“Private citizens or groups may display crèches or other Christmas symbols in public parks subject to the same reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions that would apply to other similar displays.”

“Government recognition of Christmas as a public holiday and granting government employees a paid holiday for Christmas does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”

In a news release explaining the twelve rules, Rutherford Institute president John Whitehead explained:

“Political correctness should never trump the Constitution. Schools, government officials and businesses have an opportunity to take the high road and not be relegated to playing the Grinch this Christmas. It’s time for some common sense.”

It goes without saying that expressing greetings such as “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah” is perfectly acceptable both legally and socially. Few people need twelve – or any – rules to know that.

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