woody zimmerman 118 2007Every December we get a fresh dose of “The War on Christmas.” This is also the title of a book by John Gibson, which details the legal blitzkrieg being waged by today’s anti-Christian Wehrmacht, the American Civil Liberties Union. On guard for any appearance of red and green construction paper in public school classrooms, the ACLU threatens hundreds of towns and school districts each year with legal action, unless they purge every trace of Good King Wenceslas, Rudolph, Kris Kringle, et al, from their schoolhouses and town squares.

Small school districts and towns cannot afford to fight the rich, powerful ACLU over Yule displays and activities. Officials figure this will have to be someone else’s war, so one after another they cave to avoid costly legal battles.. Thus, Christmas has steadily disappeared from many schools and town-squares. The War on Christmas is a war of legal fees where the richest player usually wins.

A few of the many anecdotes in Mr. Gibson’s book:

  • Illinois state government workers may not say “Merry Christmas” at work;
  • In Rhode Island, local officials banned Christians from participating in a public project to decorate the lawn of City Hall;
  • A New Jersey school banned even instrumental versions of traditional Christmas carols;
  • Arizona school officials said it is “unconstitutional” for a student to mention the religious history of Christmas in a class project. (What about Kwanza?)

Numerous other recent examples abound, including –

  • Homeowners in an Orange County, Calif. neighborhood have been ordered to remove their outdoor Christmas lights because the decorations are an obstruction and violate county code ordinances.
  • The Military Religious Freedom Foundation persuaded officials at Shaw Air Force Base (SC) to remove a Nativity scene located near Memorial Lake. The traditional Nativity included plastic statues of Mary, Joseph, the Baby Jesus and an assortment of animals. The League for Humane Treatment of Plastic Animals had joined the MRFF’s complaint. (Just kidding – I made up that last part about the LHTPA. But it could have been true…)
  • Officials of Elmwood Village, in Buffalo, NY, warn merchants that the holiday lights hung on the tree-lined main street are illegal. Merchants complain that the ordinance disadvantages them in their holiday sales-competition with suburban malls.

Unless something stops it, the vision of the ACLU (and its camp followers) of a secularized America will be realized in a few years. The nation’s religious foundations and cultural traditions will not be passed on to children by their schools and communities. They will be only memories.

Although a small slice of the American public might welcome enforced secularization, most people are upset by it. Many feel that their country’s identity is being stolen, that their connection with the past and freedom to live as they wish are being diminished. Communities pass Christmas-tolerance laws, but the courts strike them down. What, if anything, can be done?

Our Founders called the judiciary the “weakest branch.” If that’s true, then how did the courts become all-powerful? In the first place, we probably gave courts too much power by uncritically accepting and enforcing many of their rulings. But courts are not truly omnipotent. It is an illusion – and for the ACLU, a delusion. We the people, not robed judges, are the final authority. The Founders knew the courts have only as much power as the people choose to give them. Officials will carry out court rulings only as far as they are not personally injured by them.

Indeed, court power has sometimes been curtailed and even struck down by the public. Denied participation in America’s social and economic mainstream for centuries, African-Americans rose up in the 1950s and ‘60s to defy a legal edifice of laws and court rulings that had been designed to disadvantage people with dark skin. Heroes of the Civil Rights movement, like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., performed public acts that gave the cause visibility and moral strength. Millions of Americans who thought segregated schools and whites-only lunch-counters had naught to do with them ultimately saw our entire racially divided system as unfair and un-American – not to mention embarrassing and downright disgusting. TV images of fire-hoses and snarling police dogs left people asking, “Is this America?”

Years later, it’s easy to forget what the civil rights movement was really all about: i.e., massive disobedience of racist laws, regulations, and court rulings. In the finest 1776 tradition, black Americans disobeyed bad laws and rulings to obtain justice. Many ordinary people and some highly visible leaders went to jail for this. Their “law-breaking” offended some, but it’s important to realize that not all law is just. Laws are made by people, and people sometimes make mistakes. Certainly that includes both legislators and judges. Dr. King reminded us that free people have a duty to disobey laws they believe are immoral and wrong. Remember that the next time someone speaks of the law as though it is holy writ.

Dr. King’s famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” brought moral outrage to the battle against segregation. His involvement cost him his life. Ditto for Medgar Evers and many others. But the idea was too powerful to be killed by mere bullets. Legally enforced racism finally collapsed because Americans would not countenance it. They resisted and defeated the courts on this issue.

Dorothy traveled all the way to Oz seeking the power to get back to Kansas. All along she had the power in the Ruby Slippers she wore. She just didn’t realize it.

Our pair of Ruby Slippers – the power we don’t realize we have – is our power to disobey bad law. Civil disobedience to defend and reclaim Christmas might have a cost, but I believe it will be minimal. It could work something like this:

(1) The ACLU demands that a school district remove all Christmas symbols and activities from its schools, or face legal action. The superintendent, Dr. Smith, takes no action and skips the court proceedings. The court finds for the ACLU, but Dr. Smith ignores the ruling.

(2) In a news conference, Dr. Smith states the district’s position: namely,

  • That Christmas is an important part of the nation’s heritage;
  • That noting this fact enhances students’ education and harms no one;
  • That the school district declines to waste taxpayers’ funds on frivolous lawsuits;
  • That the ACLU appears to lack standing as a “harmed party”; etc.

(3) When the sheriff arrives to serve a bench warrant on Dr. Smith for contempt of court, reporters record the arrest and publicize it on TV and via other media. Photos of Dr. Smith being led away in handcuffs go viral on the Internet. Students organize a Christmas Eve protest and sing Christmas Carols outside both the jail and the court. (The mayor takes a holiday vacation in Aruba.) Dr. Smith’s “Christmas Letter from the City Jail” is published nationwide. Focus on the Family, Fox News, CNN and other national organs broadcast interviews from his cell. The pope issues an encyclical denouncing Dr. Smith’s arrest.

(4) The ACLU asks the court to release Dr. Smith on First Amendment grounds. He returns home to a tumultuous welcome, founds a national organization to combat anti-Christian discrimination, and is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. (OK, that last one is a stretch. He actually gets his own reality show called “Heartland Crusaders.”)

(5) Under pressure from a recall effort mounted by angry constituents, the sheriff resigns.

(6) Other school administrators follow Dr. Smith’s example. The War on Christmas dies out.

Although Christmas civil disobedience could cause loss of employment for school administrators or other public officials, that seems very unlikely. What school board or town council would dare take such a risk? Indeed, the idea of jailing defenders of Christmas evokes the absurd legal proceedings in the classic film Miracle on 34thStreet, when Kris Kringle’s sanity is put on trial. The judge’s political manager warns him that he can kiss his office good-bye if he puts Santa Claus in the nuthouse. “Henry, you’re gonna be an awful popular fella,” he cracks to the judge.

Something like this dynamic would be in play if officials were jailed for ignoring ACLU anti-Christmas lawsuits. Show me a sheriff willing to arrest a school superintendent who won’t kick Christmas out of his schools, and I’ll show you a sheriff who wants to retire.

James Madison was right. The courts are the weakest branch. The people are far stronger. We just need to realize it. When we click those ruby slippers, the War on Christmas will go “poof.”

This should give us a good tip for how to handle other bad law. We can do this.

Merry New Year!