It’s That Time – War on Christmas 2012 Update

December 12, 2012 | Posted by Enrique

It a season filled with grim tradition, one of the most tedious is Bill O’Reilly’s protest over the non-existent War on Christmas being waged by godless secularists on patriotic Christian Americans. Every year at about this time, the most-watched commentator on the Most Power Name in News helpfully informs us that Judeo-Christian values are under attack.

Ever year it’s the same thing with O’Reilly…and every year Story Time with E has a laugh at his expense, and at the expense of those Christians who play the victim card because people say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” As I said, grim tradition…

The story so far…

You said it, brother

O’Reilly probably isn’t the only guy to fill airtime with this War on Christmas twaddle, but he is one of its more popular purveyors – he’s still the highest rated cable news host, with something like 2.7 million viewers a week. The War on Christmas is a hobbyhorse for O’Reilly, and he routinely portrays himself as one of the only defenders of the “federal holiday of Christmas” as he likes to call it.

The O’Reilly Factor website has been running an online poll this week that asks, “Is there a ‘War on Christmas’ in America?” Obviously this is the kind of thing you ask simply to get a reaction, and as of the writing it should surprise no one that “Yes” is leading with over 83% of the vote. Ask a silly question…

Naturally, the online tease for tonight’s Factor is “As the ‘War on Christmas’ rages on, why are Christian priests and pastors not standing up more? … Tonight on The O’Reilly Factor at 8/ 11p ET.” Although that’s what it said yesterday – not sure if this is an ongoing story or if they just haven’t updated the promo yet.

It wouldn’t be surprising if O’Reilly was doing War on Christmas stories every day. Here’s a video from just last week – headlined “Is there a growing anti-Christian bias?” – featuring Fox News personalities Jeanine Pirro and Gretchen Carlson talking about how awful it is that some group of atheists in Hawaii objected to some state charity event that involved a church.

Don’t worry, dear reader, I watched it so you don’t have to. They don’t actually talk much about the Hawaii church/state that was the jumping off point for the segment. They mostly blather on about how secular progressives are kinda douchey.

This Pirro character was apparently a judge once, as well as an unsuccessful candidate for New York attorney general. At one point she repeats a talking point War on Christmas soldiers use when they want to pretend they understand the U.S. Constitution, saying that of course the First Amendment protects Americans from the government establishing an official religion, but “it doesn’t give you freedom from religion.”

As practical matter, you better damn well hope the First Amendment gives you freedom from government-sanctioned religion. The government should never be in the business of picking winners and losers when it comes to religion, and that’s what the First Amendment does as far as I can tell. People like Pirro seem to think the First Amendment means the government is supposed to provide resources for churches and other religious institutions that do good deeds. The government shouldn’t stand in their way, but it shouldn’t offer special privileges either.

I’m sure Gretchen Carlson is a sweet lady in real life, but on TV she seems like a total buzzkill. “I don’t remember these complaints when I was growing up. We’re pandering to the political correctness of a very few groups of people,” she tells O’Reilly.

Carlson is in her mid-40’s, which means that when she was growing up, the idea that homosexuality wasn’t a mental disorder was pretty novel. Also, when Carlson was growing up the Mormon Church banned blacks from priesthood, and Disco was popular. Christ, when you’re playing the when-I-was-growing-up card, you really need to rethink your line of argument.

O’Reilly naturally is responsible for the most amusing sound bites of the segment. “Every day I come to work and I see attacks on Judeo-Christian traditions,” he says. Well, I would suspect that O’Reilly (like most of us) has a knack for finding what he’s looking for, same way Tipper Gore found sadomasochism and bondage in Twisted Sister lyrics almost 30 years ago.

Later O’Reilly says, “There’s a lack of will and leadership in the Christian communities in America generally speaking – I have to lead this campaign…We’re not getting organized leadership from any of the churches.” Granted, his tone isn’t completely serious when he says it, but he’s not really kidding either.

Since these three defenders of the faith didn’t actually talk about the situation in Hawaii that the segment was supposed to be about, I looked it up. It involves some outfit called the Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church, which bills itself as “a religion and government watchdog group founded in 1997 to oppose the Christian supremacy movement and defend the constitutional separation of state and church.” And if you check out their website, they seem to be defending 1997 standards of web design as well.

Apparently these Hawaii atheists threatened a lawsuit over a charity concert involving a public high school band performing with a church’s support:

For the past six years, the award-winning [Moanalua High School orchestra] and volunteers from the New Hope Church have raised more than $200,000 for a charity that treats poor people in Africa.

But that all came to a halt on Monday when the Department of Education decided to cancel the concert just four days before the event.

In a letter to the Department of Education, Mitch Kahle, founder of the Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church, took issue with the involvement of New Hope Church, which handles ticket sales and sells those tickets at its services.

“The issue here is an entanglement between a public school and a Christian church,” said Kahle.
“And one of the things about the constitution is that it prohibits the involvement of public schools and churches.”

I think we can all agree it wasn’t fair of Mr. Kahle (who as far as I can tell is the only member of this Hawaii atheist group) to threaten a lawsuit so close to the event, giving the organizers no time to make alternate arrangements. And based on my research, it’s not clear that the event was going to take place at the New Hope Church. This story says the fundraiser takes place at the school, but this story clearly says the concert is at the church.

That’s a pretty important distinction. If the orchestra is performing at a house of worship, that would raise serious separation of church and state issues. But if it takes place at the school and the church’s charitable programs are merely the beneficiaries, that seems less controversial – as long as the orchestra would be available to perform at other charitable events without regard for the religious beliefs of the organizers.

This Hawaii issue actually appears to be fairly nuanced, and might be an interesting subject for a thoughtful debate. Too bad O’Reilly and his guests weren’t up to the task.

Even if this Kahle character is kind of a putz – and there appears to be some evidence that he is – it’s a poor indicator of an all-out attack on Judeo-Christian traditions. It appears that few people in the U.S. are being restricted from promoting religious values on private property. As long as that continues to be the case, concerns about a War on Christmas or an attack on traditional values are overwrought and unjustified. And they don’t even make compelling television.

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