The War on Xmas Will Not Be Televised ... at Least Not Much

December 19, 2008

So far 2009’s “helladay” season bids fair to teach us the same lesson as the 2008 season did. The “War on Christmas” is a rhetorical construct that right-wing bloviators can flog and pundits can wring their hands about, but only so long as there isn’t too much real news. Both the ‘08 and ‘09 seasons have featured commanding news story arcs. Last year all eyes were on the presidential campaign, and now the reigning story is of course the not-so-graudal dissolution of the world economy. And news stories about seasonal strife have been few and hard to come by.

The #1 story has been Freedom from Religion Foundation’s placard in the Washington state capitol building, which lauds the Winter Solstice and makes some sharp-elbowed comments about the underpromoted fact that Christianity is not true. Most coverage has focused on the physical safety of the placard as it’s turned around, purloined from the rotunda, found in a ditch, and so forth and so on. Quite a few pundits have noted the most surprising element in the story: Washington’s governor is solidly determined that the atheist placard should hold its place among the various symbols of religious faiths on display, a tip of the hat to the very large number of Washingtoners who tell pollsters they have no religion. But one deliciously ironic subtext hasn’t gotten nearly the attention it deserves. Why are any of these symbols of faith or reason on display? It turns out that a few years ago, some religious conservatives sued the state over its refusal to let them install a nativity scene. Their court victory was delectably two-edged. When the rotunda was opened to their creche, that made the location automatically an “open forum,” fair game for members of other religions to put up symbols of their faiths ... and for nonreligious people to promote what they cleave to instead of faith.