The Meaning of Christmas

Date: Thu, 8 Dec 2005 15:54:19 -0500 (EST)

From: Reverend Barry Lynn, executive director, Americans United for Separation of Church and State


Dear Jerry:

Here’s some news: There is no “war on Christmas!”

I’ve seen you on various television news shows claiming that there is but, in fact, there simply isn’t. Even as I write this, millions of Americans are erecting Christmas trees and nativity scenes at their homes, and thousands of churches are planning special Christmas services.

And, if I might say so, most of them are planning their lives without getting permission or encouragement from you.

I am deeply disappointed that you have chosen a time that Christians observe as a season of peace and good will and turned it into a time of religious divisiveness and community conflict. Your “Friend or Foe” campaign may be great for fund-raising and publicity, but it has sown discord unnecessarily.

Contrary to your wild allegations, Jerry, neither Americans United, nor any other civil liberties organization that I know of, is waging any kind of war on Christmas. The First Amendment of our Constitution ensures every American’s right to observe religious holidays or to refrain from doing so. We can wish each other a “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays,” and it’s really none of your business which term we choose. We can call our decorated tree a “Christmas tree” or a “holiday tree,” and that’s our right. (We can observe the holidays of other traditions as well.)

I think we all know what’s really going on with your campaign. You want an America where there is no separation of church and state and where your rather narrow interpretation of Christianity is forced on everyone. If you can convince Americans that their cherished Christmas traditions are under fire, you think maybe they will join your nefarious crusade to tear down the protective church-state wall that guarantees our freedoms.

Well, it won’t work, Jerry. Americans are, by and large, a tolerant lot,
and they are quite unlikely to join forces with someone like you who is so far out on the political and religious fringes. Many people remember the outrageous comments you made after the 9/11 terrorist assaults, suggesting that America had it coming because of our (in your opinion) sinful ways. They also remember your dire warning that Tinky Winky, a kids’ TV character, was brainwashing our children into homosexuality! You can’t rehabilitate an image like that by trying to depict yourself as Father Christmas.

I am particularly outraged that you are attacking our public schools as part of your misguided project. Our public schools serve children from 2,000 different faith traditions and some who follow no spiritual path at all. They generally do a tremendous job of helping each of these students without imposing any particular religious viewpoint. They steer a careful course, broadly allowing student religious expression while trying to avoid school endorsement of specific faiths. That means there are sometimes disagreements about what songs should be sung in the winter concert or what decorations should go in the hall. We can work through those decisions by applying common sense, the Constitution and plain old civility.

Thanks to the crusade by you and your allies, however, some of these schools are being targeted for venomous attacks. After the Alliance Defense Fund unfairly maligned a public school in New York for its holiday observance policies, education officials there received hateful mail of all sorts. One e-mail said “You are either bigoted Jews who hate Christians or mindless secularists.”

Since I debated you about the Christmas issue on Fox News Channel’s “O’Reilly Factor,” I have received 66 nasty e-mails, including two death threats. Observed one of my correspondents, “Hope you die soon. Merry Christmas.”

Jerry, this is the kind of interfaith and community hostility that you are
stirring up, and I implore you to stop it now. You are polluting the public square with animosity and anger. And at Christmas, of all times!!Have you no decency?

You’ve dubbed your latest round of antics a “Friend or Foe” campaign. Well, Jerry, I am a friend of the Constitution and a foe of intolerance. You should be too.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays,

Barry W. Lynn

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn
Executive Director

PS: I saw on a couple of the news shows that you are again questioning my ministerial credentials. I believe the expression that you used on Fox News Channel’s “The Big Story with John Gibson” is that I am “about as reverend as an oak tree” and that I never “preached in” a church. Drop me a line, Jerry, and I’ll send you (again) a copy of my ministerial credentials from the United Church of Christ. And by the way, I’d be happy to come to Thomas Road Baptist Church and deliver the sermon on the Sunday of your choice. Your congregation might like a change of perspective every now and then.

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