First up from the God Machine this week is a story published by Fox News, claiming to have real-life, documented examples that prove that the “war on Christmas” is a genuine phenomenon. Like many of the horror stories associated with the Affordable Care Act, the closer one looks at the anecdotal evidence, the less scary the claims appear.
In this case, Kelly Shackelford, a fairly prominent attorney in the religious right, argued that those who believe the “war on Christmas” is a myth “must not be looking very hard.” He proceeded to list a series of examples, some of which are impossible to take seriously – moving a Nativity scene from public property to private property does not a “war” make – but there was one claim in particular that stood out for me: just this year, Shackelford said, there have been attempts to “ban Christmas observances” in schools in Bulloch County, Georgia and Frisco, Texas.
My friend Rob Boston at Americans United for Separation of Church and State went through each of Shackelford’s anecdotes, one by one, but since I’ve never heard of a ban on Christmas observances, I was curious about the Georgia and Texas stories. So let’s take a closer look. On the former, local school officials in Bulloch County have said conservative media simply made stuff up.
Yesterday Fox News and Glenn Beck’s website “The Blaze” reported that a public school in Bulloch County, Ga., had banned Christmas cards. According to the Beck site, this was done because earlier this year Americans United had demanded that the school order teachers to “curtail religious expression while teaching.”The story was soon appearing on right-wing blogs and making a splash on social media. There was a big problem with it, however: It wasn’t true.
And on the latter, the alleged developments in Frisco, Texas, were imaginary.
The Frisco situation involved an email that was forwarded to a number of parents claiming that the school had banned the word “Christmas” and the colors red and green. The email had no connection to the school, and officials quickly issued a statement noting that the district has no such policies in place.
Considering this in the larger context, if the “war” actually existed in reality, legitimate examples should be readily available. But when given a chance to document the assault on the holiday, the best “war” proponents can do is point to scary stories that are easily debunked.
Which should probably tell fair-minded people quite a bit about the validity of the right’s favorite “war.”
Also from the God Machine this week:
* Following up on last week’s lead TWIG story, “Oklahoma has put a halt to new monuments at its Capitol after groups petitioned to have markers for Satan, a monkey god and a spaghetti monster erected near a large stone tablet inscribed with the Ten Commandments” (thanks to my colleague Robert Lyon for the heads-up).
* Social conservatives have rallied with extraordinary efficiency around “Duck Dynasty,” following bigoted comments from one of the reality-TV show’s stars. The American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer described A&E’s suspension of the show’s cast member as a “mark of the beast.”
* For now, it appears biology is safe from creationists’ criticism in Texas’ public-school science textbooks (thanks to my colleague Kent Jones for the heads-up).
* Methodist minister Frank Schaefer was “stripped of his clerical credentials on Thursday for violating church law by presiding at his son’s same-sex wedding.” Though church officials said the move is intended to discourage other ministers from blessing same-sex marriages, “the trial and defrocking of Mr. Schaefer have galvanized a wave of Methodist ministers to step forward to disobey church prohibitions against marrying and ordaining openly gay people.”
* And in South Jersey, another religiously inspired battle of billboards is underway, with a “Keep Christ in Christmas” banner going up against a “Keep the Saturn in Saturnalia” sign. This week, the latter was torched “by two unidentified men who fled in a pickup truck after only charring the sign’s steel support beams.” The men apparently decided the best way to celebrate the holidays is to engage in arson, vandalism, and the destruction of private property (thanks to reader R.P. for the tip).