War Against Christmas 2006 Competition [II]: No War Against Christmas? Tell That To The Grinches of Gotham!

WAR AGAINST CHRISTMAS 2006 COMPETITION
[blog] [I]
[ III ] [ IV ] - See also: War Against Christmas 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999

[VDARE.com Christmas competition note: Email us with local outrages, wherever you are. Instapundit recently wrote, re the Sea-Tac Christmas Tree ban, "Is it just me, or are we hearing a lot less of this stuff this year?" Probably is just him, but we not only want to hear about the War on Christmas, but about people fighting back.]

Also by Howard Sutherland: An Open Letter to Edward Cardinal Egan, Archbishop of New York

The mainstream media loves to tell us there is no War Against Christmas (WAC). No, no, the WAC only exists in the fevered imaginations of ratings-grubbing TV talking heads like John Gibson and Bill O'Reilly.

Oh, really? There is evidence aplenty that TV talkers aren't just making it up. All across the country, from now-you-see-'em, now-you-don't, now-you-see-'em-again "Holiday" Trees at Sea-Tac Airport to the august precincts of the Supreme Court, there are skirmishes going on in a war against something seasonal…and maybe against something more.

As VDARE.com readers know only too well, every year about this time, assorted secularists, cranks, ACLU fanatics and a growing variety of Scrooges of all sorts gird their alienated loins and sally forth to renew the WAC. The grinches have enjoyed enormous successes. Now cowed employees offer each other a half-hearted Happy Holidays at their carefully ornament-free Christmas (oops, sorry, make that Holiday) Parties, instead of the more heartfelt Merry Christmas! of yore.

The more of these annual campaigns one observes, the plainer it becomes that the "War Against Christmas" is but a seasonal campaign in a year-round war against Christianity itself. It doesn't matter that Christianity was the faith of the people who settled the colonies and founded America, and that Christianity is still the professed faith of most Americans. (Actually, one suspects that may matter a great deal to many of the Christmas-phobes.)

Nowhere is the War Against Christmas more apparent than in Skoros v. City of New York. This extraordinary but oddly unreported litigation shows how the nation's largest public school system is deliberately eradicating any mention of what Christmas is about, while at the same time allowing Jewish and Muslim symbols. In effect, the New York City Department of Education is flagrantly reducing Christianity to a sort of ecumenical second-class citizenship behind Judaism and Islam. All religions are equal, but some are more equal than others.

In 2001, the New York City Department of Education promulgated a policy that permits the display in its schools of a menorah, in honor of Hanukkah, a crescent moon and star, because of Ramadan (even though Ramadan is usually long over by the time the "Holiday Season" starts), and a pine tree, in honor of… what exactly? A Christmas nativity scene or crèche of any kind is expressly forbidden.

The Department of Ed must have figured this was pretty safe, because the cowed Christians were unlikely to complain. They didn't count on Mrs. Andrea Skoros, a Roman Catholic mother of two sons in New York City public schools. Mrs. Skoros objected to the expulsion of Christian symbols from what are, after all, Christmas displays, while Jewish and Moslem religious symbols are given prominence. She also didn't appreciate her children being required to do coloring exercises filling in pictures of menorahs and learning the stories of Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Ramadan, while the Christmas story was ruthlessly excised from the curriculum.

Mrs. Skoros's attempts to get equal billing for her children's faith were brushed off by Queens educrats. Unable to get the Department of Ed's attention in any other way, Mrs. Skoros, with lawyering by the Thomas More Law Center (TMLC), took NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein [Send him email] and the Department to court. She contended that the suppression of Christmas in her sons' school's "Holiday Display" violated the Constitution's Establishment Clause by discriminating against Christianity.

In argument at least as contemptuous of common sense as it is of Christianity, the Department's lawyers claimed that the menorah, crescent-and-star and Christmas trees are all purely secular symbols, while a crèche is a purely religious symbol. Even they seemed to know what a ludicrous argument that is, so they bolstered it by asserting that the menorah and crescent-and-star commemorate historical events, while the crèche does not!

It is certainly true that Hanukkah, with the menorah as its symbol, commemorates attested events at the end of the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucids. I haven't been able to find any specific Islamic event that the crescent-and-star is supposed to commemorate (neither could TMLC lead counsel Robert Muise when he looked into it). But the Gospels provide pretty strong attestations of what the crèche commemorates—even if one does not acknowledge the divinity of Jesus Christ, it is hard to deny that the New Testament is strong historical evidence of his birth and life, and the life of Christ is mentioned in other ancient sources, independent of the Bible.

Outrageous though the Department of Ed's arguments were, Brooklyn Federal Judge Charles Sifton bought enough of them. In February 2004, Sifton upheld the New York schools' Holiday Display policy. Sifton somehow found "significant secular connotations" in the menorah and crescent-and-star—even after acknowledging that the menorah, at least, is clearly – if not exclusively – a religious symbol. [Decision in PDF](As Michael Medved has observed about the Sea-Tac "Holiday" Trees imbroglio: "…the chief mitzvah (holy commandment) of the Hanukah holiday requires the lighting of these candelabra and reciting the blessings, so it's deeply misleading or, at best, a stretch, to call the menorah a secular symbol. Christians do not routinely pronounce blessings or recite prayers over Christmas trees.")

In contrast, Sifton claimed, Nativity scenes in any form are "purely religious" and accordingly verboten.

Sifton's ruling is ridiculous on the most basic of Establishment Clause grounds: he has made himself, a government official, the referee of what is and isn't a religious symbol – a power that clearly violates the Establishment Clause. Basically, Judge Sifton took refuge in the standard Justice Brennan invented in Lemon v. Kurtzman in 1971 (known since, not very affectionately, as "the Lemon Test"), by finding the Department of Ed's Holiday Display policy had a legitimate secular purpose: advancing multiculturalism (what else?).

Mrs. Skoros appealed. The case made its way to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, across the East River in New York. In February 2006, a sharply divided panel of the Second Circuit also found for the Department of Ed. [Full text PDF]

After an insultingly flippant opening ("No holiday season is complete, at least for the courts, without one or more First Amendment challenges to public holiday displays"), the majority ducked the issue of whether the Department of Ed was discriminating against Christianity. Instead, it professed to find no evidence that New York City was promoting Judaism and Islam in its public schools, on the theory that the point of view to consider was that of a detached adult observer. The court made a point of saying it wasn't ruling on whether a Nativity scene such as a crèche was always impermissible, and even said that a menorah is clearly a religious symbol. But it upheld New York City's discrimination against Christian symbols with the argument that the Holiday Display policy has a "secular purpose": to promote pluralism through multicultural holiday displays.

Judge Chester Straub, in a stinging dissent, said that his court's majority had misapplied the endorsement test Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor inserted into Establishment Clause jurisprudence in 1984 (to muddy up the already murky waters even more). In Straub's view, it made no sense to invoke a hypothetical neutral adult. Look instead at the real people involved, he wrote, and "a reasonable student observer would perceive a message of endorsement of Judaism and Islam and a reasonable parent observer would perceive a message that Judaism and Islam are favored and that Christianity is disfavored" in violation of the Establishment Clause.

After being denied a rehearing by the Second Circuit en banc (all the circuit's judges sitting together), Mrs. Skoros has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

As of this writing, and despite a false UPI report on November 28 that it had turned the case down, the Supreme Court has not announced whether or not it will hear Skoros v. City of New York. But it may announce that decision before the end of this week.

If the Court takes Mrs. Skoros's case, we can hope it will restore Nativity scenes to New York's Christmas-time displays. Justice O'Connor, the Court's unpredictable swing vote, is off the bench and off to William and Mary (no, not that Mary). Her replacement is Samuel Alito. As a Third Circuit judge, Alito ruled that a display including a crèche, menorah and secular symbols was perfectly fine under the Constitution. And so it is.

The War Against Christmas, and against Christianity in America, is part and parcel of the campaign to transform America, against the wishes of most Americans. It is of a piece with mass immigration. As Peter Brimelow says of immigration, America is being transformed against our will, and for no reason. Anyone who knows any American history, who can read the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, knows that Christianity is part of the American fabric, and always has been.

There are victories in the WAC that we Christmas-philes can take heart from. Mrs. Skoros's lawyers at the TMLC posted a New York success in November. For two years the Town of Bedford, in the Westchester County suburbs just north of the city, had posted a menorah, complete with lighting ceremony, on the town hall lawn for Hanukkah, while refusing a similar Christmas display. This year, thanks to a TMLC letter and persuasive argument by New York lawyer Christopher Ferrara, a Nativity scene is on the lawn as well.

The Sea-Tac "Holiday" Trees are back up, after strong reaction to their being toppled as the airport management's excuse for declining to mount a large menorah, at the request of the rabbi who started the fuss.

Pressure— and the internet – work.

It is past time to stop the New Class's abuse of the Establishment Clause to drive Christianity from American life—when the Establishment Clause actually exists to protect free exercise of religion.

Mrs. Skoros is offering the Supreme Court an opportunity to do just that. I hope they take it.

Merry Christmas!

Howard Sutherland ( email him) is an attorney in New York.