Saturday, September 02, 2006

Christmas in September

Some people will believe anything.

And the sad part is, believing anything often makes them do silly things.

For instance: Word is going around that the American Civil Liberties Union “hates Christmas” and is trying to “get rid” of the holiday. This came as a surprise to me, since I’m a card-carrying member of the ACLU and I try to stay up on all the things we allegedly hate, but there it was in black and white, at the bottom of one of those multi-forwarded emails that I normally trash without opening. But the subject line was “Christmas Card List,” so I thought maybe someone was collecting names of people who might need some cheering up during the holiday season.

Which is still almost four months away, but you know, it’s never too early to do something nice.

But no, this email had entirely different motives. Someone thought it would be hilarious if all the email recipients were to send the ACLU a Christmas card. Here’s the relevant text from the email:

Want to have some fun this CHRISTMAS ? Send the ACLU a CHRISTMAS CARD! Be sure to add them to your list! As they are working so very hard to get rid of the CHRISTMAS part of this holiday, we should all send them a nice, CHRISTIAN, card to brighten up their nasty, dark, sad, little world. Make sure it says "Merry Christmas" on it.

Now, again, as an ACLU member, I wasn’t aware I lived a nasty, dark, sad little world—or at least I wasn’t aware that the dark sad parts of it were a direct result of belonging to the ACLU. But you don’t even need much more than grade-school reading skills to see that the motivation behind this letter is not to brighten up anyone’s world. No, the motivation is revealed in the next to last paragraph:

Two tons of Christmas cards will freeze their operations because they won't know if any are regular mail containing contributions. So spend 39 cents and tell the ACLU to leave Christmas alone.

Ah, so that’s their fiendish plan! I almost hate to break it to the Christmas Card Guerillas that most of us use the pre-addressed envelopes when we’re making our contributions, though I suppose it’s possible that some first-timer might send a thousand dollars cash in a red envelope with sparkly silver ink. Seems like a long shot, though.

Anyway, let’s cut to the chase. Anything you’ve heard about the ACLU “hating Christmas” is an example of the Straw Man Fallacy, which occurs when someone deliberately misrepresents someone else’s position in order to argue against that fictional position. In this case, someone (probably someone of the Rush Limbaugh ilk) has created the “Christmas-hating ACLU” straw man in order to get people riled up (and, continuing the metaphor, to burn down the straw man).

Let’s look at it rationally. Christmas is a tradition celebrated all across the country. For some people, it’s strictly a religious observance. For others, it’s a secular celebration. For most, it’s a combination of the two. The ACLU neither has the power, nor would want the power, to prevent anyone from celebrating Christmas.

Celebrating Christmas, you might say, is one of the civil liberties the ACLU would be interested in protecting. If the government tried to tell you you couldn’t celebrate Christmas, for instance, the ACLU would defend you.

I’m going to quote Fran Quigley, executive director of the ACLU of Indiana, who has an excellent essay about this very subject on the national website. Says Mr Quigley:

For example, the Alliance Defense Fund celebrates the season with an "It's OK to say Merry Christmas" campaign, implying that the ACLU has challenged such holiday greetings…The website WorldNetDaily touts a book claiming "a thorough and virulent anti-Christmas campaign is being waged today by liberal activists and ACLU fanatics." The site's magazine has suggested there will be ACLU efforts to remove "In God We Trust" from U.S. currency, fire military chaplains, and expunge all references to God in America's founding documents. Of course, there is no "Merry Christmas" lawsuit, nor is there any ACLU litigation about U.S. currency, military chaplains, etc. But the facts are not important to these groups, because their real message is this: By protecting the freedom of Muslims, Jews, and other non-Christians through preventing government entanglement with religion, the ACLU is somehow infringing on the rights of those with majority religious beliefs.

Here’s my favorite part of Mr Quigley’s essay, mainly because there’s another straw man out there that would have you believe the ACLU is somehow an anti-Christian organization:

As part of our justice mission, we work hard to protect the rights of free religious expression for all people, including Christians. For example, we recently defended the First Amendment rights of a Baptist minister to preach his message on public streets in southern Indiana. The ACLU intervened on behalf of a Christian valedictorian in a Michigan high school, which agreed to stop censoring religious yearbook entries, and supported the rights of Iowa students to distribute Christian literature at their school.

So—if you’ve received the “Christmas Card List” and have been tempted to do your part to freeze ACLU operations, please consider this instead. No one is trying to do away with Christmas. No one has the power to do away with Christmas. And yes, the ACLU defends some causes that are highly unpopular, but keep in mind that their guide is the United States Constitution, and that someday you might be the one who needs your liberties defended.

And, I don’t know—instead of spending 39 cents on postage for an ACLU Christmas card, maybe you could give it to a Salvation Army bellringer. Maybe you could hand it to a homeless person who asks you for change. Maybe you could send it to your favorite charity.

Any of those ideas would actually make a more positive impact on the world.