Standing Up to the Religious Right’s “Christmas Police”

Source: Humanist Magazine

Author: Rob Boston

“For some reason the Jehovah’s Witnesses like to work my neighborhood. It’s not uncommon for me to come home at night and see a copy of the Watchtower or Awake! crammed under the doormat.

A recent copy of Awake! contained several articles attacking Halloween, a holiday the Witnesses really don’t seem to like. They’re not big fans of Christmas either. In fact, I don’t know if there’s any holiday they enjoy. Devout Witnesses aren’t even supposed to celebrate their own birthdays.

The Witnesses are wasting their time with me. Putting aside their idiosyncratic theology, I could never be part of a religion that frowned so much on fun and celebration.

But their recent literature drop did me one favor: it caused me to stop and think about holidays, specifically how Americans celebrate them now and might do so in the future—and why some people are so threatened by those changes.

This can be a dicey topic for humanists and advocates of church-state separation. Christmas has undeniable Christian connections, but it also has significant secular elements—think snowmen, candy canes, and fruitcake—not to mention Pagan roots. What to do about it? Is it permissible for government to get involved in Christmas at all?

For years now, the Fox News Channel and other right-wing media have been carping about a so-called “war on Christmas.” The implication is that some nefarious force—usually described as a cabal of radical nonbelievers—is seeking to drive the holiday from public life.

The reality, of course, is more nuanced. Christmas is pretty ubiquitous. Trees, Santa figures, elves, tinsel, and so on often start appearing in stores not long after the leftover Halloween candy is put on deep discount.

Some Americans (Christians among them) object to the emphasis on commercialization and money. Others say they don’t celebrate the holiday at all and are weary of the “Christmas creep” that occurs every year.

Then there is a third category, one that a lot of humanists I have talked to over the years fall into: people who celebrate Christmas, but not in a manner approved of by fundamentalist Christians.

Many humanists grew up celebrating Christmas because they were raised in some variant of Christianity. As adults, they see no reason to let it go, so they retain the features they like (family visits, gift giving, parties, etc.) and discard the rest (midnight church services, hymns, prayers, and nativity scenes).

It’s this picking and choosing that so infuriates the religious right. They get so worked up by it that every fall they morph into a force that I call the “Christmas Police.” Religious right groups are certain there’s only one way to celebrate Christmas—theirs—and they don’t want to hear about people who dare to cherry pick. We’re doing it wrong!

Religious right groups take this matter very seriously. Every year, the American Family Association actually enlists people to pore over holiday sales circulars and catalogs produced by retailers and tally up how many times the word “Christmas” is used as opposed to more generic terms like “holiday” or “season.”

From this data, the AFA produces a “Naughty & Nice” list so upstanding Christians will know where to shop. AFA supporters are also instructed to harass any hapless store clerk who dares utter “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” at the checkout.

It all sounds just a tad obsessive. And furthermore it’s silly. Giant box retailers, after all, are hardly the place to go for a spiritual Christmas experience. Who cares what words they’re using? Most of us just want to know what the prices are like.

Humanists, of course, know their history and understand that Christmas was originally a celebration from the classical Pagan era that was given a quick Christian varnish during the time of Constantine the Great. Although we’re not classical Pagans any more than we are Christians, humanists recognize that a winter celebration—when it’s dark and cold in half of the world—fills some human need. If nothing else, it breaks up the monotony and gets people out of the house.

Whether the Christmas Police like it or not, Christmas is now a holiday with significant secular aspects. Government can acknowledge these, but it’s supposed to leave promotion of the religious side where it belongs—with the churches.

That’s never enough for the Christmas Police. Thus, to them, a nativity scene, which would look just right nestled in some greenery in front of a church, must instead be transplanted to the sterile, marble steps of city hall.

At that point, it’s no longer about celebration. By insisting that the government display the crèche or acknowledge other religious activities, the religious right changes the debate in a profound way. The state is being asked to endorse and promote a specific interpretation of Christmas, and it just happens to be the one favored by conservative Christians. That’s a constitutional no-no.

To the Christmas Police, the government’s refusal to embrace its interpretation of Christmas amounts to a “war” on the holiday. Never mind that people are still free to attend services at the church of their choice, decorate their living space as they see fit, pray as much as they like, and so on.

Deep inside themselves, religious right leaders know that Americans aren’t going to stop celebrating Christmas and that there is no “war.” (Have you been to the mall lately?) Rather, what’s really bothering them is that people are celebrating the holiday in a manner that the religious right does not approve of. And the possibility exists that even more people may do this, especially if fundamentalism begins to lose its grip on the nation and the “nones” keep growing in number. That’s what’s keeping the Christmas Police awake at night.

Humanists are a special threat because so many of us are old hands at celebrating Christmas in a non-religious way. That “have-it-your-way” holiday style is our signature, and it really torques off the religious right.

Humanists are leading the way—perhaps brandishing a “Festivus Pole”—and more and more Americans are taking notice and saying, “You mean I can have all the fun with none of the dogma? Sign me up!” It’s a real threat as far as the Christmas Police are concerned. We’ve spiked the wassail bowl with the forbidden fruit of doubt; one delicious sip and there’s no turning back.

The right to celebrate Christmas in a way that is meaningful for you (or not celebrate it at all) is an extension of the right of conscience as codified in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Just as you can read the Bible as a religious tome or as a book of ancient stories and myth, you can infuse Christmas with as much or as little religious content as your conscience dictates.

At the end of the day, that’s what’s really bothering the Christmas Police. It’s not that there’s a war on Christmas, it’s that some people decline to celebrate it as a 24/7 Jesus-a-thon. To them I say, “Get over it.” And to the American Family Association I’d like to add a hearty, “Happy Holidays!”


Rob Boston is director of communications at Americans United for Separation of Church and State and a board member of the American Humanist Association

– See more at: http://thehumanist.org/november-december-2013/holiday-hassles/#sthash.OMNKWVK2.dpuf

Emphasis Mine

See: http://thehumanist.org/november-december-2013/holiday-hassles/

 

Is It Anti-Christian To Teach Yoga In Schools?

Source: Care2

Author: Judy Molland

Yoga is now taught as part of the P.E. program in public schools across the country, and at all levels from kindergarten to high school senior. There’s a good reason for that: yoga is an excellent way to ease stress in the busy lives of our students today, it’s open to kids of all athletic abilities, and it doesn’t require any special equipment.

That didn’t stop a family in a San Diego suburb from requesting that their local school district stop including yoga in physical education, arguing that it violated the First Amendment and separation of church and state.

Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock and their two children, who sued the Encinitas school district earlier this year, have lost their case.

On July 1, a judge ruled that a public school district can teach yoga, taking the side of school administrators who argued the practice is a secular way to promote strength, flexibility and balance, and that it does not amount to teaching children religion.

He agreed that yoga is a religious practice, but not the way that it is taught by the Encinitas Union School District at its nine campuses:

“Yoga as it has developed in the last 20 years is rooted in American culture, not Indian culture,” San Diego Superior Court Judge John Meyer said. “It is a distinctly American cultural phenomenon. A reasonable student would not objectively perceive that Encinitas school district yoga advances or promotes religion.”

Hooray for some sanity in this case!

In illustrating his point, Meyer explained that the school district has stripped classes of all cultural references, including the Sanskrit language. The lotus position has even been renamed the “crisscross applesauce” pose!

Superintendent Timothy Baird hailed the ruling, calling yoga “21st century P.E.” that yielded “amazing” health benefits. His district is believed to be the first in the country to have full-time yoga teachers at every one of its schools.

The lessons, funded by a $533,720, three-year grant from the non-profit K.P. Jois Foundation, are offered to the district’s 5,600 students, in addition to regular P.E.

Bizarrely, the lawyer for the Sedlocks, Dean Broyles, said the judge’s ruling was part of a broader bias against ChristianityAccording to Broyles: yoga “is religious and has religious aspects. There is a consistent anti-Christian bias in these cases, and a pro-Eastern or strange religion bias.”

A “strange religion” bias? Is he referring to the eight-limbed tree posters the Sedlocks said were derived from Hindu beliefs, the Namaste greeting and several of the yoga poses that they said represent the worship of Hindu deities?

First of all, I wonder if Mr. Broyles has ever actually taken a yoga class? Does he know what goes on there? Does he imagine the yoga instructor gets everyone into some weird position, makes them hold still and then indoctrinates them in “strange religion”?

Much more troubling in this mindset is the notion that Christianity is the only acceptable religion for the U.S., in spite of the facts that a plethora of other religions exist and that 16 percent of our citizens hold no religion at all. The wonderful multicultural and multi-ethnic mix is one of the main reasons many of us came to the U.S. as immigrants. Indeed, the San Diego region itself is a multi-ethnic area, embracing many religions.

On a practical level, if the Sheldons really believe that yoga is being used to subtly brainwash their kids, they can choose to opt out of the twice-weekly, 30-minute classes, as about 30 families have done.

Apparently Mr. Broyles is not convinced that this is the answer and is planning an appeal.

Meanwhile, the lucky Encinitas students can continue to enjoy their weekly 60 minutes of relaxation.

What do you think? Could it be that the Encinitas school district is trying to brainwash its students?

Read more: http://www.care2.com/causes/is-it-anti-christian-to-teach-yoga-in-schools.html#ixzz2YMjRgwvD

Emphasis Mine

See: http://www.care2.com/causes/is-it-anti-christian-to-teach-yoga-in-schools.html