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Holiday Inequality: The Latest Progressive Target (Forbes.com) December 19, 2014

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.

‘Tis the season—not to be jolly, unfortunately, but to tussle over religious holidays in the public square.  Atheists got an early jump on the holiday season this year, posting a provocative billboard in Southern cities with a child writing, “Dear Santa, all I want for Christmas is to skip church.  I’m too old for fairy tales.”

Meanwhile, deep in the heart of Texas, their legislature countered with its “Merry Christmas Law,” making it legal to celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah in schools and public displays.  And a Colorado Congressman has again introduced a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives in support of Christmas, opposing “atheist groups working to remove nativity displays and other decorations.”

The so-called war on Christmas is often framed as a culture war, but when it is fought in government venues such as courts, legislatures and school boards, it becomes a legal battle with the Constitution as the last word.  The First Amendment to the Constitution assures “freedom of religion” (not freedom “from” it) and “prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion.”  The history and spirit of the “establishment clause” was to avoid the state churches of Europe and instead create a free market, if you will, for religion in the U.S.  So people of all faiths, or no faith, are free to communicate their messages.

But the unfortunate twist these days, arising out of the inequality narratives of various kinds, is that keeping the public square open and free means not just creating opportunities for all faiths, but beating back the majority faith, Christianity, and its holiday expression, Christmas.  With a recent Pew Research Center poll confirming that 73% of Americans believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, 81% say he was born in a manger, and 72% opining that nativity scenes should be allowed on public property, the view is we can’t have a really free and open public square for religion unless we diminish the influence of the majority religion.

The misguided notion that creating equality for some means diminishing the others is a consistent problem with inequality narratives in America.  In education, for example, it is not enough to help students at the bottom, but we must also, in fairness, limit students at the top academically.  So tracking, where students are grouped by ability, becomes inappropriate, and studies show the new and dominant testing and accountability regimes bring up the bottom at the expense of stagnation at the top.  In racial matters, again it is not enough to create opportunities for underrepresented minorities, but we must also create limitations and quotas for the majority.  The solution presented for income inequality is not just more education and opportunity for those at the bottom of the economic scale, but higher taxes and penalties for those at the top.

Even Nicholas Kristof, progressive champion from the New York Times opinion pages, recently acknowledged that “we should use the word ‘inequality’ less and the word ‘opportunity’ more.  Otherwise we buy into the notion that everything of value in America—education, the public square, the economic pie—is limited and gains for one must necessarily come at the expense of others.  Rarely is this true, especially in America, and to buy into that is to create a culture of disillusionment and cynicism, not one of growth and progress.

Where I come out is that I’m fine if a retail clerk wants to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”  We are increasingly a nation of diversity, religiously and otherwise, and our culture should make room for that.  But I’m not ok if people say we must push Christians and Christmas out of the public square.  The law does not require that, and the Constitution does not even permit it.  And so, boldly and legally, I wish you a Merry Christmas.

Link to Forbes.com:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2014/12/19/holiday-inequality-the-latest-progressive-target/

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