The Corner

Christmas Skirmishes and the Offended Observer

We live in strange times. I’m writing this post from the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom office in tiny Columbia, Tennessee, listening to Christmas carols being broadcast from the courthouse in our town square. And yet, in this same rather conservative state, the ACLU sent letters to public schools statewide, warning them against holding Christmas parties and recommending only “holiday celebrations” and endorsing “secular symbols such as Santa Claus or dreidels.”

I understand why Ross Douthat would decry the “war on Christmas drumbeat,” and (as I note in a recent Washington Post “On Faith” piece) it’s easy to snicker when people start arguing over “merry Christmas” versus “happy holidays.” After all, the whole issue reeks of oversensitivity on all sides.

But let’s not forget that the secular Left created an entire litigation engine out the “offended observer.” When religious symbols are taken from public land, those cases are launched through a unique standing rule that allows a person who’s merely offended at the sight of a religious symbol to literally make a federal case out of their fit of pique. As a general rule, we do not enjoy a right not to be offended (and it’s a good thing too; imagine a world where every perceived slight could launch litigation) — except when it comes to public religious displays.

And yet the Left treats those sensitive souls who can’t bear the thought of a memorial cross in a national preserve as heroic dissenters. Their offense is a matter of national outrage. But what about Christians’ outrage when the very name of “Christmas” is a cause for public apology or when school principals face litigation threats for acknowledging a public holiday? Well, those people are fools who create fake issues out of a sense of false victimhood. Or, as I put it in the Post piece, “[Y]ou’re a hero of the Republic if you find ‘merry Christmas’ offensive and a hypersensitive rube if you roll your eyes a ‘happy holidays.’”

The bottom line is that we all need thicker skins. At the same time, however, one cannot remain silent when there’s ACLU demand letters flying about. For every demand letter, there will be a response, and the Christmas skirmishes will continue one more year.

But I’ll stop now. I think the courthouse speakers are playing “O Holy Night,” my favorite carol. It’s still Christmas in some parts of this great land.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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