Merry Christmas from the ACLU!
Every year at about this time, the ACLU begins receiving scores of Christmas cards, generally unsigned, almost always without return addresses. Many are simple and nice. But some call on us to have a “Merry Christmas—whether you like it or not!” and similar not-in-the-spirit-of-the-season wishes.
We welcome all cards and well wishes! Many of our staff members are practicing Christians and celebrate a religious Christmas; in fact, our offices are closed on Christmas Day! Our organization was founded to protect, among other liberties, the free exercise of religion. Although some claim that the ACLU is anti-Christian, the truth is quite the opposite: the ACLU has always stood up for the rights of all of us to practice our religion freely, and actively advocates for the right of all people to express and celebrate their beliefs, including, of course, Christians.
Some members of the public may be surprised or confused by this. It is no wonder, given the misinformation out there. But, sadly, the non-existent “War on Christmas” is in reality a cynical rallying cry for some fringe groups seeking attention.
In a Salon interview (“How the secular humanist grinch didn’t steal Christmas“), Chip Berlet, a senior analyst at Political Research Associates, “one of the foremost experts on the religious right,” says, “You have a dynamic here, where you have the Christian right hysterically over-representing the problem, and then anecdotally you have some towns where lawyers restrict any kind of display or representation of religion, which is equally absurd. It’s a closed loop. In that dynamic, neither the secular humanists or the ACLU are playing a role.”
In other words, the extremist groups have invented their own nightmare, and then feed off its effects.
Of course, meaningful freedom of religion is possible only because of a separation between government and religion. So, this Christmas, we ask those who wish a war in the name of Christmas to put down arms. Instead, why not take up these few simple guidelines for respecting the interdependent principles of freedom of religion and separation of church and state:
- Christmas displays, including nativity scenes, are perfectly acceptable at homes and churches. This religious expression is a valued and protected part of the First Amendment rights guaranteed to all citizens.
- Governments should not be in the business of endorsing religious displays. Religion thrives best when government stays out of deciding which holidays and religions to promote. Religion belongs where it prospers best: with individuals, families, and religious communities.
Lastly, as a seasonal greeting to all Christians: Merry Christmas from the ACLU! And for nonbelievers and believers in all other traditions: Thank you for enriching our world!