Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | December 22, 2009

Wishes for a patriotic, tolerance-filled holiday

“Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: Why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?” ~  Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Conner, appointed by religious right hero Ronald Reagan, concurring with the majority in McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky deeming courthouse Ten Commandments displays unconstitutional.

War on Christmas zealots make these points ad nauseam during their annual holiday persecution delusions:

• Most Americans are Christians.
• The words “separation of church and state” are not in the United States Constitution.

So what? Those points are irrelevant red herrings in their imaginary war on Christmas. The real and frightening war is the one they’re waging against American principles of liberty and freedom.

According to a 2007 Pew Research report [PDF], 78 percent of Americans call themselves Christian: Protestant, Roman Catholic, Mormon or other Christian sect. The existence of that overwhelming majority has absolutely no bearing on how, if, or what Americans celebrate during the holidays.

Americans elect representatives by majority vote. We don’t dictate religious belief or non-belief, religious practice or non-practice, or use of religious or secular holiday greetings by majority rule.

Why? Because, although the United States Constitution does not include the words “separation of church and state,” it most definitely includes the concept. As legal scholar Leo Pfeffer wrote in Church, State and Freedom, the words “religious liberty” are also absent from the Constitution. Do war on Christmas zealots want to argue that the Constitution doesn’t grant Americans religious liberty? Others note that the Constitution lacks the words “right to privacy” and “right to a fair trial,” but it clearly grants Americans those rights; the Founding Fathers just used different words to do so.

The First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion; or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” What does that mean as a practical matter? Nonprofit advocacy group Americans United for Separation of Church and State explains: “The U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted this clause to mean that religion and government must stay separate for the benefit of both. The government holds no religious viewpoint and leaves all decisions about faith and religious practice to its citizens.”

The lack of separation of church and government is what drove 17th-century immigrants to make the risky journey to this uncivilized continent. If war on Christmas zealots want to understand real persecution, they should remember what the united government and church did to people who disagreed with state-endorsed, majority-followed religious dogma in 16th- and 17th-century Europe. Those “heretics” — including Mennonites, Lutherans and Jesuits, depending on which religion controlled the government — were subjected to expulsion and torturous execution methods like hanging, strangling, disembowelment and drowning.

Maybe that history lesson will unbunch their panties if some underpaid, overworked, 21st-century retail clerk wishes them an inclusive “happy holidays” instead of an assumption-based “merry Christmas” this week.

Maybe it will help them truly appreciate that American patriots risked and gave their lives to ensure that future generations could believe and worship — or not — as they saw fit, free from government or majority dictates.

Maybe it will help them grasp the wisdom of President John Adams, who wrote, “Nothing is more dreaded than the national government meddling with religion.”

Maybe it will make them understand that the more religious you are, the more precious America’s separation of church and state ought to be to you.

Maybe it will finally help them see that whenever anyone tries to erase the division between religion and government, whenever anyone tries to destroy the wall that ensures our religious freedom, that person insults the sacrifices of American patriots and, worse, endangers the blood-paid legacy they left us.

Maybe it will help them understand that I highlight the dangerous ignorance of war on Christmas zealots due to a strong sense of patriotism, a deep love for my country, and a desire to ensure that future generations do not suffer the real persecution that early American settlers fled.

Here’s my holiday gift for war on Christmas zealots: You’ve inspired me to donate to Americans United for Separation of Church and State ( to support their important work.

May you enjoy a patriotic, tolerance-filled holiday season and new year.

“The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries.” ~ President James Madison, primary First Amendment author



  1. Hear, hear! Well written; my thoughts, exactly! Thanks for reiterating a civic lesson that so many in our nation need to hear. I don’t necessarily agree with *every* little thing you’ve said here, nor do I think that you have every last tiny historical fact, totally accurate, but you’ve definitely hit the nail on the head. Happy free and tolerant new year to you, too! -CSH

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