Christmas Confusion: Religious Right Keeps Looking For God In All The Wrong Places

Mat Staver and his allies believe only their fundamentalist version of Christianity is right and true, and they want government entities, including the public schools, to impose it on others.

The broken record that is Mat Staver, founder of the Religious Right group Liberty Counsel, is at it again: Christmas is under attack. Christmas is under attack. Christmas is under attack.

You could have fooled me. I stopped in a local mall last weekend, and it sure looked to me like Christmas was in full swing. On my way there, I passed more than one church with a Nativity scene on its lawn. Based on the decorations on my block alone, which include both the secular and the sacred, you’d have a hard time not knowing it’s Christmastime.

Staver was featured prominently in a story issued by OneNewsNow, a right-wing “news” outfit owned by the Rev. Donald Widmon’s American Family Association. OneNewsNow exists primarily to provide an alternative source to right-wingers who can’t abide the regular news – you know, news anchored in reality.

Anyway, in a recent story, Staver laid it all out for us. Citing a recent poll by the conservative Rasmussen firm, Staver insisted that Americans want more Jesus in their Christmas and also want the holiday celebrated in public schools.

Let’s assume for a minute that this is true. (I’m skeptical because people have been known to fudge the truth to pollsters, especially when the topic is religion. Lots of people, for example, tell pollsters they go to church when they haven’t darkened the door in quite some time.)

So, for the sake of argument, let’s say that lots of Americans want a more religious Christmas. A question comes to mind: Is this hard to find?

Not unless you live in Saudi Arabia. Even small towns in America feature a variety of churches. Most of these institutions are more than happy to deck the halls with religious trimmings in December. They fling open the doors and welcome every visitor. They have religious hymns, prayers, Nativity scenes (live or otherwise), midnight services, candles, incense, blessings, holiday pageants, you name it.

Staver, for some reason, insists on expecting city hall to celebrate his religion. Any sensible person would realize why city hall is a poor place for a religious celebration – esthetically and legally. It’s like going to a store that sells high-end electronics and wondering why there are no groceries. It’s because you’re in the wrong place.

It’s the same with the public schools. Our schools serve children of many different religious beliefs and none. Even among the Christians, you will find a range of beliefs, with some insisting that the Bible be interpreted literally and others rejecting that.

Because of this diversity, public schools are limited in what they can do when it comes to acknowledging Christmas. They have to stick to the holiday’s cultural aspects or discuss it as part of a program of secular education.

Again, any number of churches in town will be happy to explain the religious aspects of Christmas to children. And here’s some surprising news for Staver: The people who work in churches – members of the clergy – are experts at this. They were specially trained to explain theology to people. Public school teachers aren’t.

But, of course, we know what Staver is really up to here: He believes only his fundamentalist version of Christianity is right and true, and he wants government entities, including the public schools, to impose it on others.

This isn’t about celebrating Christmas, it’s about controlling it and making sure people acknowledge the holiday in a way Staver and his fundamentalist elves approve of.

No thanks, Mat. America is a diverse place, and we’ll keep the decision about how and whether to celebrate Christmas where it belongs – with every individual as dictated by his or her conscience.

Of course Staver will reply that religion and faith aren’t just for houses of worship on Saturday or Sunday and will assert that we’re trying to keep his religion hemmed in. Not at all. Under our Constitution, Americans have the right to engage in as much (or as little) religious activity as they want. So, Mat, feel free to read the Bible to your kids. Sing hymns with them. Take them to religious events in the middle of the week. Put a large nativity scene on your front lawn. Walk around your community and distribute Bible tracts, etc.

You can do all of this on your own. Just don’t expect the government to help you evangelize. It’s not the government’s job and, to be perfectly honest, they tend to do a poor job of it anyway.

And, Mat, if you’re really having trouble getting more religion into your Christmas this year, just drop me a line. One of the churches I passed with the Nativity scene on its lawn looks like it might have what you’re after. I’ll be happy to hook you up.

P.S. Many PBS stations tonight are airing a program called “First Freedom: The Fight For Religious Liberty,” which examines the development of religious freedom in America and how church-state separation brought it about. I’ve seen a clip from this program and read the companion book and was impressed. Take a look and let us know what you think.