Buoyed by success in bringing traditional moral values to bear in the last election, some conservative evangelicals are now turning to rescuing Christmas from "political correctness."
The California-based Committee to Save Merry Christmas is calling for a boycott of Bloomingdale's and Macy's department stores to protest removal of the words "Merry Christmas" from advertisements, decorations and promotions.
"A covert and deceptive war has been waged on Christmas to remove any mention of it from the public square during the Christmas season," declares the Web site SaveMerryChristmas.org.
In addition to retailers substituting non-sectarian terms like "Happy Holidays" in displays, the religious right is also fighting secularization of Christmas in schools and on public property.
The Rutherford Institute, a conservative civil-liberties organization, issued guidelines for understanding what can and cannot legally be done to celebrate Christmas in public.
"Every year we hear many complaints from parents about school officials banning any reference to the word 'Christmas,'" said Institute President John Whitehead. "There is an irrational bias against anything remotely religious unless it's sanitized and secularized, and unfortunately too many parents, students and teachers erroneously believe they cannot do anything to celebrate Christmas in the public schools."
Public schools once openly celebrated Christmas with concerts and communities decked courthouse squares with Nativity scenes. That began to change after years of lawsuits and growing multiculturalism, prompting complaints from traditionalists that the holiday is being stripped of its religious roots.
Several examples are making the rounds.
Schools in Blair, Neb., are trying to limit the use of the word "Christmas" in December events, encouraging teachers to instead refer to the upcoming vacation as a "holiday" break.
"We try to celebrate the season and make our students and staff aware of the fact that people celebrate in different ways," Superintendent Steve Shanahan said in the Washington County Pilot-Tribune & Enterprise.
School districts in Florida and New Jersey have banned Christmas carols from holiday programs.
Target Corp. decided this year to not allow bell ringers from the Salvation Army at its stores across the nation, saying the company can no longer afford to make an exception to its solicitation policy.
The Christian Broadcasting Network complained about use of terms like "holiday trees" instead of "Christmas trees" and "Season's Greetings" in place of "Merry Christmas."
"We seem to be editing Christ right out of Christmas, and it's getting pretty ridiculous," said an article on CBN.com.
Conservative activists aren't taking the trend lying down.
"We are resolved to stop the Grinch from stealing Christmas," Matthew Staver of the Liberty Council said in launching the group's second annual "Friend or Foe" Christmas campaign.
The Alliance Defense Fund has 700 attorneys nationwide ready to combat attempts to "censor" celebrations of Christmas, according to a news release.
"The phrase 'separation of church and state' is not in the U.S. Constitution, but because of the fear, intimidation and disinformation groups like the ACLU promote, many public officials and educational leaders mistakenly believe it is their duty to silence Christian religious expression," said ADF President Alan Sears.
Sears said the legal alliance's goal is to "inform and educate the 96 percent of Americans who celebrate Christmas regarding their rights."
Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin launched a "Lump of Coal" campaign against Denver's mayor for not allowing a church group to participate and sing carols in a community Parade of Lights.
Pleas to "keep Christ in Christmas" are nothing new for the Christian community. This year, however, conservative evangelicals are still flexing the muscles of a mobilized electorate in November.
The Committee to Save Merry Christmas cited "the recent presidential election showing political correctness is offending millions of Americans."
"We're not going to allow the country to continue this downward spiral to the left," the Associated Press quoted Patrick Wooden, pastor of a church in Raleigh, N.C., which paid $7,600 for a full-page newspaper ad urging Christians to spend money only with merchants who include the greeting "Merry Christmas" in ads and displays.
"It seems that the liberal left in our country are trying not only to eradicate our Judeo-Christian values and policies, but our holidays that celebrate our God," columnist Thomas Greene wrote for the Conservative Voice. "We as conservative Christians must meet this movement and effort to be politically correct with the same force that we met the liberals with on November 2, when 11 states banned gay marriage, where the nation elected President George W. Bush to four more years and gave Republicans a majority in both United States houses of Congress."
Not everyone reviews the push from the religious right as a positive development.
"The mixing of secular and religious symbols ought to be seen as a bad thing, not a good thing, for Christian believers," Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State told the Associated Press. "Unfortunately, some of the Christian pressure groups seem to have it backward."
"I think it's fair to say it's a mistaken notion that they have a mandate to put more Nativity scenes up because George Bush was elected," Lynn added.
EthicsDaily.com columnist Jim Evans dismissed the Macy's boycott as "silliness."
Forcing a retailer to restore "Merry Christmas" to its marketing strategy won't promote Christianity, said Evans, pastor of First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.
"What it actually does is make Christians look like bullies who don't seem to care that we share the country with people of other faiths," he said.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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