November 30, 2012

Keep Christ in Christmas, but the Government Out

Patrick Laverty

Ok, so there's this green tree kerfluffle thing at the Statehouse. People are making a big deal over it and what name the Governor chose to refer to it. He even went on the Bill O'Reilly show last night to talk about it, and I think he did better than I expected. I wish he had a better explanation for his position, but at least he didn't embarrass himself terribly. He showed his biases a little bit with his comment about the Fox network being "angry", but that's beside the point.

I think we should give credit where credit is due. Lincoln Chafee did not create this issue. This is an issue that was created by WPRO talk show host John DePetro. He brought it to the forefront and used countless hours on his show to rail against the Governor referring to the "Holiday Tree", and has been wildly successful in getting many others excited about the topic.

Plus, there are those who think that Chafee created this by calling it a Holiday Tree, but as he said on O'Reilly, he's merely following what at least one of his predecessors did as well, as WPRI's Ted Nesi noted last year.

Let's put all of this aside and get down to what should be the real question. Why in the world is there any kind of tree at all in the Statehouse? Why is the state government celebrating any religious holiday? I know O'Reilly referred to the tree as secular, but how in the world can a "Christmas" tree be secular? Unless he's now going to tell me that Christmas is as secular a holiday as Thanksgiving or New Year's Day. There's no question that Christmas is religious and if you call it a Christmas tree, it is a religious symbol.

I get that the people who celebrate Christmas are in the majority in RI, however should everything be done simply because the majority wants it that way? Even at the potential expense of others? Maybe it's an overused example, but how angry would many get if Muslim symbols were celebrated at the Statehouse? Or random piles of flying spaghetti? We saw what happens when a government tries to be all inclusive and a flock of pink flamingos appeared on the Cranston City Hall lawn. Full inclusiveness is impossible, someone's going to be left out.

Here's a thought. Stay out of it completely. Don't try to include anyone. Government's job isn't to be hanging lights and decorations on an oversized, dying fir in the Statehouse rotunda. Their job is to run the state, keep it safe for its citizens and create an environment where all can thrive. In addition to create a healthy environment for business and jobs, but also create a healthy environment where everyone can celebrate anything they want, any time they want themselves on private property with their family and friends. That is how we all should celebrate our religious holidays, separate from the government.

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Well said Patrick. This obsession with a tree is diverting attention from the bigger fish that need frying.

Posted by: jgardner at November 30, 2012 9:29 AM

A manufactured controversy for ratings. Chafee didn't do a good job explaining his position, but O'Reilly's claim that a Christmas Tree is secular is absurd. Organized religion is a collection of beliefs and traditions. Christmas is a Christian holiday. The Christmas Tree is a tradition observed by people of the Christian faith on Christmas. Jews and Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus do not have Christmas Trees. It even has the word "Christ" in it. I don't know how it could more clearly be a religious symbol.

Is it legally or morally right to have a "Christmas Tree" in the state house? No. Do I care the slightest bit if there is, or what it's called? No. It isn't hurting anybody. There are more important issues in the state, to make the understatement of the century. Moving on.

Posted by: Dan at November 30, 2012 10:17 AM

I'm no Libertarian nor a good Christian either but if you can't call it what it is then it doesn't belong there. I would ask the politically correct crowd if Chafee had called it a Christmas Tree, would it be such a big deal to them?

Posted by: Max D at November 30, 2012 10:43 AM

Max -- good question, though I wonder if the politically-correct crowd and the separate-church-and-state crowd are the same. You're right thought -- it's a Christmas tree. Calling it a "Holiday" tree doesn't change anything.

Posted by: jgardner at November 30, 2012 12:57 PM

What needs to go is John DePetro, his show is a diservice to the state and citizen's of Rhode Island. The shock jock is clearly desperate to get picked up for national syndication.

Posted by: Michael Webber at December 1, 2012 12:35 PM

First off, Christmas is a federally recognized holiday. Ramadan, or any other Muslim and many faith holidays Are not. There is no church/state issue here. If you don't like government doing things appropriate to the "holy" day then you are free to have mr cicillini and mr Whitehouse advance legiation to purge this great threat of impending theocracy. In the meantime, this is just a typical LIBERAL tactic. You guys do something completely unwarranted in the name of protecting some unnamed entities feelings and claim conservatives or religious people in general are lunatics or "raising a fuss over nothing" when we say "wait a minute, why are you screwing with a 140 year tradition? " spare me your "lets just dump the whole thing" rap. Unless of course your talking about your supercilious intellectualisms. Society is rarely brought down in one fell swoop, it's usually one symbol at a time.

Posted by: Paulc at December 1, 2012 3:19 PM

Patrick, the separation of Church and State derived from a controversy between Christian denominations. That part seems to most frequently get left out of discussions on this matter.

Chaffee allowed a Menorah lighting ceremony in the Statehouse last year.

Also allowed in the Statehouse was a soup kitchen that solicited donations from religious organizations. Those both show hypocritical double standards on the part of this administration.

Further,Chaffee was shown to be ill informed at best and a liar at worst when he said that the White House called it's Christmas tree the "White House Tree" On O'Reilly's show.

DePetro can be quite cold in my opinion,yet he did not manufacture this controversy. He is not the Governor who refuses to call a Christmas tree a Christmas tree in insult to Christians.

As for government staying out of it completely,that might have some merit.

Also, I think the palace on Smith Hill is a waste. Why not sell it and the business of government can be conducted via internet?

Posted by: helen at December 1, 2012 7:47 PM

I just realized that I said the soup kitchen in the Statehouse solicited donations from religious groups when,really,as I recall,on the Statehouse site they asked for participation from any organizations,and mentioned religious groups. Seems small but I don't think what I first said was completely accurate.

Posted by: helen at December 1, 2012 8:14 PM

Ahaha! My husband just asked me why I was so kind to Chaffee. (Fall on the floor and I'm laughing!!)

Posted by: helen at December 1, 2012 9:10 PM

I am so sick of the minority of people changing something that has been going on for decades..... If you want to separate government and religion, then the government should work on Christmas and any religious holiday therefore!! There are more of us Christians than non and we will rise up to protect what we believe!!! Merry Christmas!!!!

Posted by: SandraC at December 3, 2012 2:12 PM

"I am so sick of the minority of people changing something that has been going on for decades"

Me too, Sandra. I think it's stupid that we can't own humans from a different race. That's just dumb. We did it for years, we shouldn't change a thing!

Posted by: Patrick at December 3, 2012 2:27 PM

Patrick your response to Sandra is immature and lame. But then again this from a man who claims because the tree is called a "Christmas tree" that makes it a religious symbol.
Guess that means the Easter bunny is also a religious symbol in your world, Pat??
Frightening lack of common sense.

Posted by: Linda at December 3, 2012 4:17 PM

Immature? Yeah, probably, but not lame.

I would also say there's a difference between a "religious symbol", like a cross or Star of David and a symbol related to a religious holiday. A Christmas tree is emblematic of a religious holiday, as is the Easter bunny.

However, all of this discussion is a rat hole to my main point. I don't care what you call it and I don't care that Chafee was hypocritical in his support of other religious holidays in the Statehouse. My point is none of this stuff should be done in the Statehouse. You can all celebrate anything you want, on your own, virtually any way you want.

My preference is for no Christmas trees, holiday trees, menorahs or anything else referring to a religious holiday being supported by the state government.

As for people getting Christmas off from work, that isn't an endorsement of a religious holiday by the state, that is an acknowledgement that if they don't do that, they won't be able to keep the doors open as too many people would simply take the day off anyway. Other areas have similar practices with other religious holidays when another non-Christian religion is prevalent in the area.

Posted by: Patrick at December 3, 2012 4:42 PM

Patrick's leap from traditions of religious symbols at the statehouse to slavery is just bizarre,but I've seen it in other contexts-gun control advocates frequently like to equate people owning semiauto handguns or AR15's with "nuclear weapons or rocket launchers"because they are all "arms"-it's called going over the top.

Posted by: joe bernstein at December 4, 2012 11:28 PM


You're right, there's zero in common between a Christmas Tree and slavery. I was merely pointing out how ludicrous the sole argument "but we've done it that way for years". So that is what makes it right? Or the fact that Christians are the majority? That makes it right? That's just silly.

Posted by: Patrick at December 5, 2012 6:47 AM

@Patrick-actually the fact that the USA is an overwhelmingly Christian nation is quite significant.The ongoing traditions of a benign nature(as opposed to slavery or segregation)like a Christmas display on public property are doing no material harm.We cannot cater to every whim of each aggrieved minority(usually only a few individuals purporting to represent many others)or we'd be reduced to a very sterile existence quite quickly.One size fits all might work with panty hose(?) but not elsewhere.If a display hurts someone's feelings,too bad.Live with it is my advice.It doesn't equate with being denied voting rights or service at a lunch counter.

Posted by: joe bernstein at December 5, 2012 10:37 AM
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