City’s Holiday Task Force Gets It Right – Government Must be Neutral on Religion

Originally appeared in Fort Collins Now

14 November 2007
Eric Fried

Here’s something you don’t hear much right now: the Fort Collins Holiday Display Task Force got it basically right. A diverse group of thoughtful volunteers labored countless hours to come up with an inclusive solution to the city’s dilemma of what to display on government property around the winter holidays, and they delivered a reasonable answer. What they also delivered, of course, was more ammunition to those who hype their phony “War on Christmas” for partisan political purposes.

For years, Fort Collins displayed only Christian symbols, until a local Jewish group asked to have a menorah included. Had city leaders simply said “Sure, why not?” the controversy would have been stillborn. For reasons unknown, our city fathers balked at including the Chanukkah candelabra, and instead did what smart politicians the world over do: they tossed it to a task force to take the heat. Mission accomplished!

The basic problem for the city – for all government – is the US Constitution, especially the First Amendment, which guarantees us both freedom of religion and freedom from religion. I know some of you are deeply committed to the fairy tale that America was established as a Christian nation, but it just ain’t so. To believe that, you have to believe the Founding Fathers amazingly forgot to write that theological preference into our bedrock law; indeed they neglected to mention God, Jesus, the Bible or Christianity at all. They did specify that no religious test would ever be required for public office, and that Congress could pass no law regarding an establishment of religion. (Later amendments extended this guarantee to all the states as well.) Maybe you have made up your mind and don’t want to be confused by facts, but if you read history at all you discover most of the Founders were Deists, not Christians, and some were actively hostile to the Dobsons, Robertsons and Falwells of their day. This nation has ALWAYS been multi-cultural and multi-religious, with the early population split among European settlers, African slaves, and Native Americans. America has always been officially secular, not Christian. It’s part of what makes us great.

Besides, American Christmas has virtually nothing to do with Jesus. For one thing, we don’t know for sure when he was born, but the gospels indicate spring, not winter. Being brilliant marketers, the early churchmen moved Jesus’ official birthday bash to correspond to an existing Roman Winter Solstice holiday, when the days begin to get longer and light returns to our world. When you hear that “Christmas is the reason for the season,” that’s another myth. Drinking and dancing to cheer us up on the darkest, coldest days of the year – THAT’S the original reason for the season! Also, Jesus was not big on maxxing out credit cards at the mall. As I recall, he threw the moneychangers out of the temple, lived communally and told people to give away all their stuff, not acquire more. Finally, most of our revered Christmas symbols – decorated evergreen trees, wreaths, and yule logs – are adapted from pre-Christian northern European traditions.

If folks in Fort Collins want to celebrate the (non)birthday of Jesus through an orgy of materialism that directly contradicts his message, and to sanctify their commercialism through the use of pagan symbols, it doesn’t offend me, personally. What does offend me are members of the 90 percent majority playing the victim card, claiming discrimination if the government does not officially endorse their chosen faith. Separation of church and state is NOT hostility to religion, it’s neutrality, and it’s what has allowed both church and state to thrive in America. Every home, store and church in Fort Collins is free to decorate their property with all the trees and lights and crosses they can handle.

Let’s hope our city council listens to its own task force, and doesn’t cave in to pressure. That’s all I’m asking Santa for this Christmas.

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