Re: Keep Christ in Christmas, but the Government Out

I don’t believe it’s fair to blame WPRO (630AM) talk show host John DePetro for “manufacturing” the controversy about the Rhode Island Christmas tree/holiday tree.
The blame rests squarely with Governor Lincoln Chafee, who is claiming the authority to rename a religious symbol because he is the head of the state. (Bill O’Reilly is wrong when he says Christmas trees are a secular symbol).
To Governor Chafee and some of his extreme-liberal fellow travelers, it’s just plain obvious that “separation of church and state” means that government has inherent authority to rename religious symbols. To other Rhode Islanders, many Rhode Islanders, the possession of such a power by government officials isn’t a slam dunk.
When Governor Chafee tries explaining why government should involve itself with renaming religious symbols, he generally isn’t very convincing and, as a result, often prefers to take the discussion towards declaring that there shouldn’t be so much opposition to his decision because publicly voiced dissent, he believes, could create chaos. Or maybe dissent, on this issue, in the Governor’s mind, is chaos.
These, in the end, are the two sources of the continuing Rhode Island Christmas tree controversy: a Governor who asserts that his office as head of state comes with the power to rename religious symbols and said Governor’s intolerance for dissent from that position. That much public questioning occurs about the wisdom of both these propositions is not just acceptable but healthy.

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Russ
Russ
8 years ago

“The blame rests squarely with Governor Lincoln Chafee, who is claiming the authority to rename a religious symbol because he is the head of the state.”
Pretend all you like that this started with Chafee (we both know it didn’t). btw, you can still call your tree whatever you like (I checked with the governor’s office and they said that would be OK). In any case, sometimes a fir tree is just a fir tree.
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
Wie treu sind deine Blätter!

Sammy in Arizona
Sammy in Arizona
8 years ago

The good conservative folks on the Right have “invented” way to many loony, phony wars to list here, including, but not limited to, The War on Christmas, The War on Guns, The War on Religion, The War on Masculinity, The War on Christians, The War on Femininity, The War on Catholics, The War on Conservative Women, The War on Easter, The War on Santa, even The War on The Easter Bunny…..LOL
My favorite totally phony war, The War on the Rich (Class Warfare)

Sammy in Arizona
Sammy in Arizona
8 years ago

The good conservative folks on the Right have “invented” way to many loony, phony wars to list here, including, but not limited to, The War on Christmas, The War on Guns, The War on Religion, The War on Masculinity, The War on Christians, The War on Femininity, The War on Catholics, The War on Conservative Women, The War on Easter, The War on Santa, even The War on The Easter Bunny…..LOL
My favorite totally phony war, The War on the Rich (Class Warfare)

Dan
Dan
8 years ago

It’s ironic that conservatives object to the politicization of religion after explicitly pushing for it in the public sphere. Just like progressives objecting to public loans being doled out on a political basis. You reap what you sow – government is political by definition. If you don’t want something politicized, keep it out of government jurisdiction. Conservatives need to be reminded from time to time that separation of church and state protects the integrity of both.

Dan
Dan
8 years ago

Sammy – Recycling old comments again? You’ve dusted off and reposted this one a few times now. Why you are tolerated here despite blatant troll behavior that would get you banned from any other blog in existence is anyone’s guess. P.S. I had to laugh out loud today when I saw you spamming up the Projo comments section with the same cut-and-paste troll comments. I also noticed they have removed many of your prior posts as violating their terms of service.

Dan
Dan
8 years ago

Andrew – Excuse me, you are correct as to terminology. I was using “public sphere” as a synonym for “public authority,” but I see that many use it to refer to non-governmental action, so let’s substitute the terms and leave the semantics at that.
The governor does not have the authority to rename all Christmas trees as your entry implied, rather only those owned by government on public property. By placing Christmas trees in government ownership and on government property, an action that conservatives tend to support, the name of the trees becomes a “political” issue, just as gay marriage became a “political” issue when government involved itself in marriage, and just as use of marijuana plants became a “political issue” when government began its war on drugs. Separation of church and state would remove the Christmas tree from the state house and thus preserve the name of your religious symbol.

Monique
Editor
8 years ago

“Separation of church and state would remove the Christmas tree from the state house and thus preserve the name of your religious symbol.”
In your broader definition of that term, Dan, it would also preclude the celebration of any religious holiday in a capitol. But that’s not what Governor Chafee has done. Last year, he arranged for the observance of two religions (Hanukkah and Eid) at the State House while revoking the religious symbol of a third. No, the Christmas tree is not the most significant symbol of christianity. But its religiosity is certainly sufficient to have disturbed the governor (in some inexplicable way).
I like everything Andrew said in this post and that’s the only thing that I would addend: the complete lack of consistency of Governor Chafee in this matter.
He doubled down on his purported point of principle by declaring on Bill O’Reilly’s show that the State House is a “secular building”. Yet the governor has hosted at least two religious celebrations there while being disrespectful to a third.
Either the State House is a “secular building” across the board and the governor (whoever it may be) celebrates no religion therein or he celebrates them all. Showing preference by observing some religions but not others is simply not an option for a public official where a public building is involved.

Max D
Max D
8 years ago

Come on Russ, take a stand. Instead of just making snarky comments. Explain to us what is logical about a governor who refuses to call a Christmas Tree what it is but sponsors the singing of Christmas songs celebrating Christmas at the lighting of the non-Christmas tree. Help us out.

Dan
Dan
8 years ago

Well, that’s a separate but related issue. He shouldn’t be discriminating against a religion.
I, and the Constitution for that matter, don’t have any problem with religious observances occurring in government offices, but they have to be treated neutrally. Government shouldn’t be endorsing specific religious symbols or holidays. I believe government purchasing a giant Christmas tree and lighting it in a public festival crosses that line.

Sammy in Arizona
Sammy in Arizona
8 years ago

Governor Carcieri and his wife, Sue, will host the official holiday tree lighting ceremony in the rotunda on Friday, Dec. 5, at 6 p.m. Refreshments will be served
Carcieri press release

Justin Katz
Justin Katz
8 years ago

I don’t think I’ve ever come across a better example of the ahistoricity of much modern “civil rights” thinking than this, from Dan:
“just as gay marriage became a ‘political’ issue when government involved itself in marriage”
Unravel that and you have the reason various governments’ push to redefine marriage has been such an affront to principles of limited government. It once was the practice that the people and their culture could place concepts in government that the Constitution would forbid government officials from placing in government themselves… because the government was merely acknowledging the culture and language of the society it served (“Christmas,” “marriage,” etc.). Now it has become the practice for the government to insert concepts and words into the culture as a means of redefining society from the capitol (“Holiday Tree,” “gay marriage,” etc.).
Many libertarians/moderates/whathaveyous seem to believe that only the principles and terminology of us creepy traditionalists will receive this treatment. You reap what you sow, Dan, you reap what you sow.

Dan
Dan
8 years ago

Andrew – What you describe in your example would be copyright infringement. But assuming the books were truly public domain with no restrictions on them, I don’t see why the state couldn’t present the copies it owned as it wished. The public would be free to do whatever it wished with its own copies, so it wouldn’t be substantively harming anything. Might look a bit silly is all.
Justin – The gay marriage issue is not a semantics debate. It is a legal issue having to do with rights conferred by the state. Remove the state’s authority over marriage and it would no longer be relevant to anybody what the state chose to call it. The only reason the state has the legal authority to “redefine” marriage is because it has the legal authority to define it in the first place. I see the latter as the fundamental issue, the resolution of which would also resolve your objection. The elegance of a smaller state is that one size no longer has to fit all in such matters and disputes resolve themselves. This holds equally true for marriage as for the names of decorated evergreens.

helen
helen
8 years ago

Justin wrote:
“Now it has become the practice for the government to insert concepts and words into the culture as a means of redefining society from the capitol (“Holiday Tree,” “gay marriage,” etc.).”
Amen. This is what we face.

helen
helen
8 years ago

True story,although the skeptics and hard hardhearted among us might scoff.
When I was growing up during the 1950s,my mother’s family lived on a small farm in MA. Almost every year we would be there on Christmas Eve. My aunt,who was the second youngest daughter told this story:
On Midnight of Christmas Eve all of the animals would kneel down. I always wanted to see this miracle,and so wanted to go to the barn and see but never did and when I grew up dismissed it as a
sweet Christmas tale.
Fast forward to just a few years ago,roughly 45 years later…
My husband and I were watching a Christmas Mass at Midnight by the new Pope.
Our dear kitty cat was acting her usual self but just before midnight she came to watch the tv with us.
She sat there for a few moments watching,then,oh,you reading probably won’t believe this but it’s true,at midnight during the Mass she kneeled down,sort of layed forward is the best I can describe it,intently watching the tv screen. She stayed that way for about five minutes,then got up and acted her usual self again.
My husband and I both said wow! It can’t be,yet it was.
Merry Christmas!

helen
helen
8 years ago

P.S. It was at midnight exactly that she laid or knelt down because I remembered the old story and took note of the time. I was just amazed,it was so unlike her usual behavour.

Justin Katz
Justin Katz
8 years ago

Helen,
Great anecdote; thanks for posting it.
Dan,
My point is that this statement of yours is incorrect:

The only reason the state has the legal authority to “redefine” marriage is because it has the legal authority to define it in the first place.

It is by claiming the right to redefine marriage (indeed, for some, the civil-rights obligation to redefine it) that the state claims the right to define it. The appropriate response of judges, in particular, along the way would have been: “That’s not what our society considers marriage to be, and none of our laws are premised on a definition of marriage that isn’t male-female. Government doesn’t define these words; it acknowledges how the people, in their dealings, define them.”
Many civil libertarians, however, ultimately agree with the equivalence of same-sex relationships with opposite-sex relationships, so they’re content to let this slip through. Ultimately, I agree that the federal government should shrink to the point that the definition of marriage is nearly irrelevant (by, for example, eliminating the income tax), but that’s how you remove marriage from the government sphere, not by declaring that the government cannot acknowledge the way our culture operates in our society.
By acceding to the idea that the definition of marriage can be flipped (after a political push of less than two decades, really), libertarians are inviting the next attack on cultural definitions, perhaps of things like “property,” “earnings,” and “liberty.” The left is already laying the groundwork.

Dan
Dan
8 years ago

Justin – I philosophically agree with some of what you say. For example, I don’t think culture and “tolerance” should be driven by government. I am only disagreeing with you on a legal basis. Marriage licenses come from the state. The state decides by law what constitutes a valid marriage. Remove this explicit legal authority and the definition is returned to the people to decide for themselves, effectively eliminating the political conflict.

Tommy Cranston
Tommy Cranston
8 years ago

It will blow the minds of losers like Russ Conway and Sammy the Troll but “separation of church and state” is NOT in the US Constitution. Congress couldn’t establish a national religion but the states HAVE the authority to, and DID establish “state religions”.
What constitution DOES provide for “separation of church and state”?
The one authored by Europe’s worst mass murderer, progressive Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Constitution of 1937.
Look it up-all true.

Dan
Dan
8 years ago

Andrew – I’m sorry, but your argument is confusing me more and more. Where do I “define an inherent right of the state to plagiarize”? I clearly stated that your example would be copyright infringement, whether the state or a private person was performing the action. Absent the copyright issue, yes, the state would be able to do with its property as it wished, just like any other person would be able to. How am I “giving the state infinite power”? It is a simple fact that valid marriages are legally defined by the state. This isn’t some sort of philosophy of mine, it’s current U.S. law. I am advocating for taking that authority *away* from the state. It’s really not a difficult argument I’m making, and Patrick made substantially the same point in his original post. Sometimes you overthink things.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
8 years ago

@tommy-do you expect the truth to impress Russ or sammy?The former is too busy finding block quotes to post and the latter is a low life unworthy of answering

Russ
Russ
8 years ago

“‘separation of church and state’ is NOT in the US Constitution.”
Never said it was. That’s how Jefferson (who we can assume knew a thing or two about the Bill of Rights) described the intent of the Establishment Clause.

Russ
Russ
8 years ago

And since Joe loves them so much, a few quotes from Madison who we can assume knew nothing about the Bill of Rights.

The civil Government, though bereft of everything like an associated hierarchy, possesses the requisite stability, and performs its functions with complete success, whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood, and the devotion of the people, have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the church from the State.
— Letter to Robert Walsh, Mar. 2, 1819.
Every new and successful example, therefore, of a perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance; and I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together.
— Letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
8 years ago

@Russ-we live by the Constitution and the laws proceeding from it.What one or another of the founders thought about a particular subject is perhaps of interest,but not legally binding.The Constitution prevents the Congress from establishing a religion.They haven’t done so.The individual states aren’t addressed on the subject,but there has never been a “state”religion.Erasing references to a higher power in the public square doesn’t seem to be what the Constitution was referencing.
Atheists are actually imposing their philosophical beliefs on the public tot he extent that it sometimes they have established an “anti-religion”of sorts with the connivance of the courts.
Russ-do you suggest dispensing with prayers opening Congress,Supreme Court sessions,changing the Pledge of Allegiance back to the pre-1953 version,re-naming cities like St.Louis or Providence,swearing on the Bible in Court,etc?We can become like the old Soviet Union-would that make you happy?Actually you are the kind of guy the old Soviets would tag as a “troublemaker”and wind up in some gulag.

Russ
Russ
8 years ago

“What one or another of the founders thought about a particular subject is perhaps of interest but not legally binding.” Not just one of the founders. Madison wrote the Bill of Rights. Plus you’re venturing into progressive territory with that. It’s the conservatives on the court (and groups like the Tea Party) who obsess on original intent. As for chaplains, interesting you bring that up. Madison opposed that as well (Catholics take note of whose rights he felt needed protecting): press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/amendI_religions64.html The Constitution of the U. S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion. The law appointing Chaplains establishes a religious worship for the national representatives, to be performed by Ministers of religion, elected by a majority of them; and these are to be paid out of the national taxes. Does not this involve the principle of a national establishment, applicable to a provision for a religious worship for the Constituent as well as of the representative Body, approved by the majority, and conducted by Ministers of religion paid by the entire nation. The establishment of the chaplainship to Congs is a palpable violation of equal rights, as well as of Constitutional principles: The tenets of the chaplains elected [by the majority] shut the door of worship agst the members whose creeds & consciences forbid a participation in that of the majority. To say nothing of other sects, this is the case with that of Roman Catholics & Quakers who have always had members in one or both of the Legislative branches. Could a Catholic clergyman ever hope to be appointed a Chaplain? To say that his religious principles are obnoxious or that his sect is small, is to lift the evil at once and exhibit in its naked deformity the doctrine that religious truth is to be… Read more »

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
8 years ago

@Russ-I don’t know what “territory”I am straying into when I write something-I don’t follow anyone’s party line.
@Andrew-I don’t think the Presidential statue has any religious significance and I fail to see any overbearing hand by having a Christmas tree-no one has the “right”to not feel excluded.Sometimes in life we feel excluded-tough.I don’t really think it matters.
I remember in Parris Island in 1965 everyone had to go and pray at the Chapel the night before rifle qualification(they took it very seriously)-so there was a choice of going to the Catholic or Protestant Chapel-I was the only Jew in the platoon so the DI said”you have to go to one of them-but you don’t have to say any of the prayers”-it seems they couldn’t leave me alone in the squadbay.I chose to go to the Catholic service because I was a little familiar with Catholic services.It didn’t scar me for life-some of the other stuff the DI’s did would be called atrocities today-LOL

Russ
Russ
8 years ago

“allowing a Christmas display on government-owned property”
Who banned Christmas displays at the State House? Now you’re just making things up.
“Plenty of Christmas Trees at State House, and Creches”
http://www.rifuture.org/plenty-of-christmas-trees-at-state-house-and-creches.html
Not to mention Rep. Costa’s State House Christmas gathering. What you folks want is a taxpayer paid, quasi-religous ceremony. You’d do well to listen to Madison… “it be proper that public functionaries, as well as their Constituents shd discharge their religious duties, let them like their Constituents, do so at their own expence.”

Russ
Russ
8 years ago

“…or a building 30-foot statute of a President housed in a Greek pagan-style temple?”
So now you’ve got a problem with the Jefferson Memorial or is it with Beaux-Arts architecture generally? Maybe we should put some Christmas decorations on old TJ to make it more festive. Think you folks may actually be losing it.

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