December 20, 2005

Why the Grinch is Stealing Christmas

” . . .  they’re hanging their stockings!” he snarled with a sneer.
“Tomorrow is Christmas! It’s practically here!”
Then he growled, with his grinch fingers nervously drumming,
“I MUST find a way to keep Christmas from coming!”
– The Grinch, from How The Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss

Like the Grinch of Dr. Seuss fame, there are those who are working hard to erase every public expression of Christmas in USA’ville. To list just a few examples, consider the following:

  • In Texas a teacher told students not to write “Merry Christmas” on greeting cards for soldiers in Iraq because it might offend someone.
  • In a New York school, the halls were decked with menorahs and Kwanzaa candles but no Christmas trees.
  • A high school principal in the Seattle area canceled a dramatic performance of Charles Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol” because of its Christmas theme.
  • In Florida, an elementary school concert included songs about Hanukkah and Kwanzaa but offered no traditional Christmas music.
  • In Rochester, Minnesota, two students were reprimanded for saying “Merry Christmas” in a school skit.
  • Bay Harbor Islands, Florida refused to allow a Nativity scene on public property but has menorahs and the Star of David on lampposts.

Why is this happening? What is the common denominator of these events? A worldview perspective uncovers the motives for banning the real reason for the season.

UnGrinching the First Amendment

When it comes to censoring public displays of Christian themes, an appeal is made to maintaining religious “neutrality.” This means that religion (specifically Christianity, but curiously, not other religions) should neither be advanced nor debased. The rationale for this “separation” principle comes from the First Amendment to our national constitution.

But does the First Amendment actually demand a religiously neutral state? In Dr. Seuss’s story, the Grinch’s failing was a heart that was “two sizes too small.” But in the current situation, the problem is more cerebral, involving a “too small” understanding of basic constitutional principles.

For starters, the First Amendment is a restriction on the Federal government, not the states. It reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion . . . .”[1] There is no such limitation placed on the states. One reason was because at the time of the writing of the First Amendment, seven of the original eleven states provided support to particular Christian denominations.

What is the Federal government restricted from doing? The First Amendment is clear; it bars the Federal government from establishing a religion. Historian M. E. Bradford points out that in 1789 a religious establishment referred to “an institution able (with the assistance of government) to promulgate a creed or dogma, to require official assent to that doctrine, to collect . . . tax in support of that religion, and to require at least from time to time, attendance at worship.”[2] In simple language, the Federal government was not to designate one national church that all citizens must pay allegiance to and support financially.

Further, the First Amendment restricts the Federal government from “prohibiting the free exercise[3] of religion. This “free exercise” clause “left the general government free to sponsor all sorts of religious activity . . . [such as] public prayer, support for church-related mission schools, or the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 with its provision of land to be set aside for churches.”[4] These are free expressions of religion but do not establish a particular denomination as the national church.

The actions of the founders reveal their intentions regarding how religion and government should interface. Bradford notes,

A demonstration that the [First] amendment did not ‘erect a wall of separation’ between religion and the government of the United States occurred on the very day when it finally passed out of the Congress for transmission to the states. For on September 25, 1789, Elias Boudinot of New Jersey offered a resolution calling for ‘a joint committee of both Houses’ of the Congress to urge upon the President the propriety of a day of ‘public prayer and thanksgiving.’ This language was adopted by an overwhelming majority of the House.[5]

When everything is considered, including the record of motions and revisions in language of the First Amendment from the Senate and House of Representatives plus letters from Madison and others, the picture becomes clear. Bradford concludes that these sources are ” . . . more than enough [evidence] to demonstrate that a neutrality tending to become a hostility toward religionóan instrument for secularizing the public lifeówas not the purpose of any participant in the process of this lawgiving.”[6]

Historical Tunnel Vision

One reason that many people are confused about the intersection of religion and government is because they have been taught a narrow historical perspective. The “state neutrality” view is taken from only three or four founders who did not claim to be Christians, usually mentioned are Jefferson, Franklin, or Thomas Paine.

Yet there were over 150 other founders who did embrace Christianity! Why not hear from them? For example, George Washington, after his second term as President, said in his 1796 Farewell address that the foundation of government were both religion, by which he meant Christianity, and morality. Here are his own words:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.[7]

Then there is John Adams, who put his signature on the Declaration of Independence, was the main author of the Constitution of Massachusetts in 1780, Vice-President for two terms years under George Washington, and 2nd President of the United States. In a 1813 letter to Thomas Jefferson, Adams wrote, “The general principles on which the Fathers achieved independence, were . . .  the general principles of Christianity . . . .”[8] Nothing could be more plainóChristianity was the worldview from which the founders derived their ideas about the nature of man, law, and government.

Or take Benjamin Rush, who not only signed the Declaration of Independence but also attended the Pennsylvania state convention that adopted the new Constitution. Notice the linkage Rush makes between religious instruction and the concepts of morality and liberty, which lead to the maintenance of a free republic. Rush wrote,

. . . the only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.[9]

These examples could be multiplied a thousand-fold. Bradford calls the evidence of the founders’ religious intentions “overwhelming” and concludes that “it is a farfetched conjecture to say that . . . they set out to secularize America.”[10]

Can the Grinching of Christmas be Stopped?

A 2004 Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll found that 96 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas, while 87 percent believe nativity scenes should be allowed on public property.[11]

What can you do to stem the tide of secularization of our national holidays? Here are a few ideas to get you started: write a letter to the editor of your local paper, visit the principals of nearby schools, or take your mayor or city councilman to lunch. Remind them of the following facts regarding the celebration of Christmas:

  • The U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled that public schools must ban the singing of religious Christmas carols or prohibit the distribution of candy canes or Christmas cards.
  • School officials may refer to a school break in December as “Christmas Vacation” or holiday without offending the Constitution. In other words, it’s OK to say “Merry Christmas.”
  • School officials do not violate the Constitution by closing on religious holidays such as Christmas and Good Friday.
  • No court has ever held that celebrating Thanksgiving or Christmas as religious holidays requires recognition of all other religious holidays.
  • The “Three Reindeer Rule” used by the courts requires a municipality to place a sufficient number of secular objects in close enough proximity to the Christmas item (such as a crËche) to render the overall display sufficiently secular. Although the overall display must not convey a message endorsing a particular religion’s view, Christmas displays are not banned. Simply put, the courts ask, “Is the municipality celebrating the holiday or promoting religion?”

And remember, all that is necessary for Grinches to triumph is that Christians do nothing.[12]

Resources for Further Study

  1. See, (emphasis mine).
  2. M. E. Bradford, Original Intentions: On the Making and Ratification of the United States Constitution (The University of Georgia Press, 1993), p. 95.
  3. See, (emphasis mine).
  4. Bradford, Original Intentions, p. 97.
  5. Ibid., p. 97–98.
  6. Ibid., p. 93.
  7. Washington’s Farewell Address, 1796,, (accessed December 7, 2005).
  8. Lester J. Cappon, ed. The Adams-Jefferson Letters (University of North Carolina Press, 1959), vol 2, pp. 339–40.
  9. Benjamin Rush, On the Mode of Education Proper in a Republic (1798), (accessed December 6, 2005).
  10. Bradford, op. cit., p. 101.
  11.,2933,105272,00.html, (accessed December 7, 2005).
  12. My apologies to the British political philosopher, Edmund Burke, (d. 1797) who wrote, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” (accessed December 7, 2005).

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