Christmas is fast approaching and, as usual, it will be accompanied by false claims of victimization from conservative Christians. Thismisguided belief has prompted Christians to warn of the "War on Christmas." Every year, Christians purport to have been the victims of religious persecution when certain practices are not allowed. Included among these practices are the placement of religious displays on government-owned property, religiously-charged advertising and holiday celebration in schools.
To clarify, Christians are in no way more guilty of inappropriate religious expression than other groups. It is only their position as America’s dominant religious culture that makes it necessary to address their practices in particular.
During the holiday season, the religious often see fit to petition for the placement of religious displays on state property, claiming it as an innocent means of displaying their faith. Of course, they have every right to decorate their own homes with religious imagery, as long as the decorations do not become an affront to neighbors. However, the placement of religious symbols on public property is another matter. Take, for example, the recurring debate; whether or not it is acceptable to have Christian imagery decorating the lawn of a courthouse. At first glance, this may seem a harmless practice. However, it should be recognized that to anyone who does not follow the Christian faith, a courthouse decorated with a manger scene would be seen as not conducive to the equality guaranteed by the American government.
In order to rectify this and similar situations, some suggest that public property should be open to decoration by all religious faiths. In truth, this would be an exacerbation, not the resolution, of the problem. Equal right to decoration would do nothing to solve the core problem, that being the integration of religion into government practice.
Around this time of year, Christians complain about the perceived neglect of their religion by the private sector. This once included the absence of the word ‘Christmas’ in Wal-Mart advertisements. This policy was changed, however, after a crusade headed by the Catholic League. Given that Wal-Mart and other retailers are not associated with the American government, it is their right to integrate religious ideology into advertising practice, just as long as it does not become discriminatory. Just the same, it is the right of conscientious Christians, and those not belonging to the faith, to protest this integration.
Perhaps the most important aspect of this debate is the relationship between faith and schooling. Simply put, there should be none. Schools are meant to be a place of knowledge and, at the risk of generalization, religion and knowledge are usually antithetical.
Again, the issue of religion in schools comes to the fore in December. Holiday concerts generate controversy by their prominent feature of Christmas carols. As in other cases, Christians see Christmas carols as an innocuous expression of faith. However, others cannot easily ignore the implications of Christian songs into school concerts.
Beyond the concerts, schools are also faced with controversy surrounding religious decoration. Few public schools still permit manger scenes as decoration, but Christmas trees and menorahs are still commonplace. Given that these symbols are suggestive of religious ideology and serve no educational function, it should be an easy enough decision to remove them from schools.
But they remain. This is due to the fact that schools, more than nearly any other institution, may be swayed by the will of individuals. Administrators can, to a degree, decorate as they see fit. Unfortunately religious imagery, when juxtaposed with concrete knowledge, can be detrimental to the learning process.
For this reason, federal legislation is necessary to ban outright the display of religious symbolism in schools, and on government property, during the holiday season and at other times.