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Worship is, in this country, both a public and a private act of devotion. While many Americans pray privately in their homes, around a dinner table, or before they go to bed, they also worship publicly, in church, at their places of business, on the athletic field, at their local soup kitchen, and, for many, every time they say the Pledge of Allegiance or sing the National Anthem.
But worship of any kind, private or public, gets religious America into serious hot water with the liberal media, which has come to mock and resent public displays of faith, or any acknowledgment of God or religion by the state. The mere suggestion that the country is in fact a Christian one is declared backward, dangerous, and heretical to the Constitution of the United States.
Christmas and Christian holidays, prayer, public references to biblical scripture, the Ten Commandments, “In God We Trust,” one nation “under God,” “God Bless America”—it’s all now subject to ridicule and scrutiny by the liberal press, which has decided, without consulting the citizens of our country (80 percent of whom are Christian), that it’s no longer seemly or appropriate to worship out loud. Their collective distaste for displays of Christian devotion has grown from mild to maniacal in less than a decade, despite the fact that the Christian population in the United States has grown from 159,514,000 to 173,402,000 between 2001 and 2008.1
To be clear, the liberal media has no problem with worship—as long as it’s secular. The media worships a great many false idols in its daily broadcasts, front-page stories, news segments, and online features. The liberal media worships Hollywood and celebrity, breathlessly fawning over Angelina Jolie’s every inconsequential gesticulation or Lindsay Lohan’s less-than-shocking crimes and misdemeanors, or the latest castoff on the 147th The Bachelor. It worships its political demagogues, such as John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Barack Obama, and takes turns propping them up on pedestals so that you may worship them, too. It worships liberalism and all its causes célèbres, such as environmentalism, gay marriage, abortion, and, the ACLU’s newest pet cause, jihadi rights. And, of course, it worships itself, with flashy correspondence dinners, magazine parties, self-satisfying award ceremonies, and giddy self-promotion. During the presidential election, CNN called itself “the best political team on television” as many as fifty times … in a single day.
But worship God? That’s something else entirely. Not only has the liberal media seemingly stripped the word from its lexicon, but when it does bring it up it’s to mock believers or champion the cause of the angry atheist, who, the media promises us, represents the new majority opinion about God and faith—that faith should be banished to the far corners of the earth (Alaska would suffice) so that it is spoken of only in hushed tones in one’s own bedroom. You know, like porn.
As a result of the liberal media’s relentless efforts to shame God to a place on the dusty bottom shelf of modern American civilization, it seems that we now have a president who is taking direct cues from the media’s vow of silence. And for that gift, the gift of God-omission, the liberal media rewards President Obama with positive coverage. Sure as the sun rises and sets, the cycle repeats.
OBAMA DEMOTES CHRISTIANITY,LIBERAL MEDIA REJOICES
Obama’s first year in office was marked by the kinds of slaps to the faithful that we usually see only during an episode of Real Time with Bill Maher. But they were actually foreshadowed in a speech he gave in San Francisco on the campaign trail, in which he said, “You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for twenty-five years and nothing’s replaced them. And it’s not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or antitrade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
The comment was shocking both for its sheer stupidity—how did that get past his campaign managers when he was going to the Pennsylvania primary just days later?—and for its alarming classism. Religious Americans bristled at the notion that tough economic times make them “cling” to anything, let alone their faith. And they took particular issue with the idea that “antipathy to people who aren’t like them,” “anti-immigrant sentiment,” and “antitrade sentiment” were somehow equatable with religious devotion. At this moment, which Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton and Republican challenger John McCain both seized on readily, Obama seemed to reveal at best a lack of understanding of American faith, and at worst a real disdain for it. In short, he was in perfect lockstep with the liberal media.
So when he eventually became President Obama, the many continued indiscretions that would follow were swept quietly under the carpet by the liberal press, which saw in him a kindred secular spirit who wouldn’t bore them with God references every other minute like the last guy did. “Finally,” they sighed, “a president who is just as uncomfortable with public worship as we are.”
And on the very day he was sworn in, Obama delivered another slight to religious America when he became the first president in the history of the United States to mention atheists, calling America a nation of, among other things, nonbelievers. He would, over the course of his first year, go on to regularly put nonbelievers on the same plane as the religious faithful. This isn’t just an insult to believers. It should also be an insult to nonbelievers, who so militantly insist they are separate from those kooky God lovers, and intellectually superior to them. Lumping atheists into a group of so-called religious fanatics should be the last thing they want. But it’s also an inaccurate comparison. Equating belief with nonbelief is equating apples and oranges. One implies a moral value system, the other is marked explicitly by the lack of one. That doesn’t mean nonbelievers are immoral, of course, but it does mean they are structurally and intrinsically different entities. The president may as well acknowledge Beatles fans and dog lovers in the same breath if he’s going to acknowledge nonbelievers, for they have as much to do with American values as atheism does.
For that inaugural nod, the country’s self-avowed atheists—all 1.6 percent of them—rejoiced, and the liberal media was there to help them celebrate. Steven Waldman wrote of American atheists in the Huffington Post: “Not surprisingly, they greeted Obama’s inaugural declaration with some surprise and joy.” Waldman then quoted Ed Buckner of American Atheists as saying, “In his Inaugural Address today, President Barack Obama finally did what many before him should have done, rightly citing the great diversity of Americans as part of the nation’s great strength and including ‘non-believers’ in that mix. His mother would have been proud, and so are we.”2
Greg M. Epstein, Harvard University’s humanist chaplain (yes, apparently that’s a real post), similarly gushed in his Washington Post column, “I too was pleasantly surprised to see the President return, after a bit of wandering in recent months, to his previous practice of extending a rhetorical hand to my community in his oratory. As reiterated by my colleagues in the American Humanist Association’s recent ad campaign, Obama is the proud product of ‘parenting beyond belief’—his strong relationship with his Humanist mother S. Ann Dunham makes him living proof that family values without religion build character.”3
It seemed that, despite Barack Obama’s careful insistence during the campaign that he was a devoted Christian, with a simple mention of nonbelievers in his inaugural address atheists were ready to claim him as one of their own—he was living proof that being raised an atheist made him a better person!
And, in case anyone thinks the mention of atheists was a thoughtless or casual inclusion, David Axelrod, his senior adviser, admitted that Obama personally inserted the nonbeliever references into his inaugural speech.4
WAIT, WHERE DID JESUS GO?
The nonbeliever mention was just the beginning of Obama’s courtship of the liberal press, notoriously averse to God-talk.
In April 2009, Obama gave a major address on the economy at Georgetown University, a private Catholic college in Washington, D.C. After the address it was discovered that the White House advance team had asked the school to remove or cover all religious imagery and signage, specifically a monogram symbolizing Jesus’ name in Gaston Hall, where Obama spoke. The school did, in fact, cover the monogram with a piece of black-painted plywood.
The incident caused an uproar among Catholics, who denounced both the Obama administration for making such a demand and the school for conceding. Why did the president choose to speak at the Catholic school if he was going to insist on hiding its religious nature?
Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, criticized Obama for asking the school to “neuter itself.” “No bishop who might speak at the White House would ever request that a crucifix be displayed behind him,” he said.5
For America’s Christians, it read as though Obama was uncomfortable with religion, or at the very least wished to dissociate himself from it. Religion scholars of all kinds dissected the moment, interpreting it as a fairly significant one in the president’s first few months.
But, unsurprisingly, there were no mentions of the odd request in the New York Times, Boston Globe, CNN.com, USA Today,L.A. Times, or any other major newspaper or online news outlet. For the liberal media, it either didn’t happen or didn’t matter.
Newsweek did pick up the story online, but presumptuously assured readers it was no big deal in a short post called “Obama at Georgetown: WWJD?” “It’s not that unusual a request,” wrote an omniscient Holly Bailey in the article. “The White House usually prefers to have flags and a plain backdrop behind Obama when he speaks.”6
The obvious response is, of course, then he shouldn’t speak at an institution where religious imagery is literally nailed to the walls.
But besides that, it’s simply untrue. When he spoke to the NAACP, he spoke in front of their insignia. When he gave a speech on the stimulus in Washington, D.C., he spoke in front of a U.S. Department of Energy sign. When he spoke in Ghana, he stood in front of a Ghanaian medallion and Kente cloths. All of this is entirely appropriate—the White House doesn’t require every host venue to undergo an Extreme Home Makeover so that the president can speak there on camera.
So why the cover-up at Georgetown? This would become one of many instructive and revealing moments of Obama’s first year that proved just how incomplete his understanding of American faith actually is. Presumably, he believed that the mere choice of Georgetown as a venue would make him appear comfortable with his Catholic constituents, and that covering its religious insignia would please his secular ones. Christian America didn’t buy it. Unsurprisingly, the liberal media did.
Many liberal media outlets that covered his speech at Georgetown highlighted Obama’s use of Christian allegory within the speech as proof that he could connect with the public through faith, entirely ignoring the fact that he had demanded all religious iconography be covered up or removed.
The L.A. Times, the Boston Globe, and NPR were just a few of the outlets that covered the speech from this angle. The Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin was positively glowing: “At the heart of a forceful speech delivered at Georgetown University, Obama placed powerful biblical imagery from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, likening the boom-and-bust economy he inherited to a house built on sand and the future US economy he is working toward one built on a rock.”7
In that one sentence we get Froomkin’s vantage point—our economic woes were caused by George W. Bush, Obama’s speech was brilliant, and his use of religious rhetoric to describe them means he is connecting with the common folk. After all, the opiate of the masses, when it is politically expedient and makes their guy look good, is just fine. This, despite eight years the media spent bemoaning every mention of God or the Bible by Bush. Who do they think they’re kidding?
NATIONAL DAY OF … WHATEVER
In May, the president once again ruffled feathers when he decided not to attend the festivities on the National Day of Prayer, which is usually acknowledged with some fanfare by sitting presidents. He skipped a formal early morning service and did not attend a large Catholic prayer breakfast the next morning.
The snub was hardly insignificant. The National Day of Prayer was called by the first Continental Congress in 1775 when it asked the colonies to pray for the future of the nation. In 1952, President Truman signed a joint resolution by Congress declaring an annual national day of prayer, and in 1988 the law was amended by President Reagan to permanently set the day as the first Thursday of every May. Every year the president signs a proclamation encouraging all Americans to pray. Since 1789 there have been 134 national calls to prayer by the president of the United States, and Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush each signed two proclamations in one year in response to particularly challenging moments in history. Past presidents have celebrated in numerous ways, by attending religious services, with prayer breakfasts, and by giving speeches.
But when Obama decided to forgo the day entirely, the brushoff got very little national media coverage. There was nothing in Newsweek, nothing in the Washington Post by nonopinion columnists, and nothing in the New York Times.
CNN reported the story with carefully chosen words: “Obama Tones Down National Day of Prayer Observance.”8 The headline is, of course, misleading—he didn’t merely tone it down, he skipped it altogether. His spokesperson Robert Gibbs said he would pray privately, which was naturally his right, but why does a public acknowledgment of the day preclude private acknowledgment—couldn’t he do both? Out of respect for the religious majority, shouldn’t he do both?
Other liberal news outlets, once again, chose to highlight another part of the story—that Obama would sign the proclamation that day. MSNBC’s headline was “Obama Signs Day of Prayer Proclamation,”9 and USA Today and others followed suit. For them, skipping the National Day of Prayer wasn’t the lead story. Signing the proclamation was.
To be clear, signing the proclamation is no show of faith—it’s required by law. Nonetheless, that very act was problematic for MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who unleashed her wrath on the heretical moment on her May 7 show: “In a country founded in part so that religion would be a private matter for every citizen, in a country in which the government is constitutionally prohibited from endorsing any particular religious observation over any other, or even endorsing the idea of having a religion over not having a religion, having an official, legal National Day of Prayer in America has always been a little awkward. But religious forces have long been powerful here and have long sought to yoke the power of the state to particular forms of religious expression.”10
In addition to sounding downright paranoid, Maddow also got a few things wrong. The country was certainly not founded “so that religion would be a private matter for every citizen.” The country was founded on a principle of freedom of religion, not freedom from religion, and of course the Constitution’s free-exercise clause states that Congress can’t “prohibit the free exercise” of religious practice. It does not require the faithful to practice privately—in fact the Founding Fathers wrote the freedom of religion clauses as a direct rebellion against the persecution of believers. Quarantining worship to secret, closed-door meetings was the last thing they had in mind.
The National Day of Prayer doesn’t endorse any particular religion, as Maddow suggests. It recognizes all religions and is strictly nondenominational. What it doesn’t recognize is nonbelievers, that group of less than 2 percent who seemed so pleased to finally get a nod from a sitting president. But Maddow can rest easy—the National Day of Prayer doesn’t mandate that atheists take to their knees. No prayer police will come to their houses in the dark of night and force them to use a rosary or read from the Koran. Really, what’s the big deal?
And the National Day of Prayer, in existence since 1775, hasn’t “always been a little awkward.” It may be awkward for Maddow, but the majority of the country—a majority that is unequivocally religious—would disagree.
As proof that the National Day of Prayer has no place in American politics, and that even the Founding Fathers thought so, Maddow borrowed a couple of Wikipedia passages suggesting that Thomas Jefferson and James Madison weren’t big fans, and selectively quoted from them to make that assertion actually seem accurate. But she forgot to copy the other verses on the Wikipedia page, which relayed John Adams’s views, Abraham Lincoln’s views, and Benjamin Franklin’s views, all of which were that the national call to prayer was, well, a pretty nice idea.
For the liberal media, Obama’s prayer-day no-show was proof that he had either paid just the right amount of respect to America’s religious population, or, at least for Maddow, a little too much. For the nation’s believers, it was a significant slight.
And another was right behind it.
NO FLYOVER COUNTRY
In July 2009, for the first time in the forty-two-year history of the “God and Country Rally” in Idaho, the Pentagon denied a request for a military flyover. Held every year, the event honors the spiritual fabric of the country and the men and women who serve it, but this year, the first under the Obama administration, the rally was told it was too “Christian” to get a flyover. Rally director Patti Syme was shocked and disappointed, having had no problems in previous years. Local attendees to the annual rally were also confused—the event was nondenominational and the flyovers a long-standing American tradition.
Earlier in the year, incidentally, the Pentagon also stopped the practice of including a Bible quotation on the cover page of daily intelligence briefings it sends to the White House. But neither that nor the flyover denial got any play in the liberal media. There was nothing in the New York Times,Newsweek, the Washington Post,MSNBC.com, CNN.com, the Boston Globe, ABCNews.com, USA Today, or any other major news outlet—except for Fox News.
But the Huffington Post did publish a column by Chris Rodda, the senior research director of something called the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and, unrelatedly I’m sure, the author of “Liars for Jesus.” For MRFF, which had already successfully campaigned to stop the Pentagon from sending Bibles to soldiers in Iraq, the move was finally the recognition that this special-interest group had been waiting for: “So, while those who seek to use the U.S. military to inseparably combine religion with patriotism might find the Pentagon’s decision ‘deeply troubling and disturbing’ and will certainly get a lot of mileage out of this decision to spread the notion that the Obama administration is bent on ‘crushing’ religion, we at MRFF see it as a good sign that, under our new commander in chief, the Department of Defense might just finally be starting to obey its own regulations.”11
The New York Times covered the MRFF’s 2009 lawsuit against the military alleging that it forced religious practice on soldiers. The paper also covered MRFF’s lawsuit against the Air Force, alleging a commander sent an email to his air personnel that directed them to an inspirational story on a Catholic website. And it covered MRFF’s 2007 suit against the Defense Department on behalf of an atheist soldier who felt he was forced to attend prayer meetings. It seems the Military Religious Freedom Foundation has a direct line to the New York Times.
For the liberal media, God is out and atheism is most definitely in.
The so-called mainstream media’s version of faith, which Obama seems to share, is essentially “Keep it to yourself, and we’ll get along just fine.” It’s quite literally the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” of the Obama administration. That mantra is reflected in every adoring piece of press coverage Obama actually gets that deals with faith. The liberal media either praises him for his silence or exalts him for some pseudosecular act it claims is actually one of devotion. Case in point was US News & World Report’s 2009 list of the “10 Most Important Obama Faith Moments,” compiled only one hundred days into office. The list was bewildering at best, and downright insulting at worst.
The lead-in to the list was US News’s dubious claim that “Barack Obama has embraced faith in a more visible way than any other president in recent memory.” Apparently, for this magazine, just saying something makes it so. The list went as follows:
- Rick Warren’s Inauguration Day Invocation
- Granting First TV Interview to Arabic Language Network
- Reversing Mexico City Policy on Family Planning Providers Abroad
- Opening Rallies With Prayer
- Launching White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships
- Convening a Faith Advisory Council
- Joe Biden’s Receiving Ashes on Ash Wednesday
- Lifting Restrictions on Federally Funded Embryonic Stem Cell Research
- Announcing Plans to Give Notre Dame’s Commencement Address
- Speaking to Muslim World From Turkey12
As any rational person could tell you, there isn’t much on that list that constitutes a genuine “moment.” And worse, almost every item is something George W. Bush did also—and was excoriated for. Bush gave interviews to Arabic-language networks, he spoke at universities, he opened rallies with prayers, he launched the office of faith-based initiatives (which Obama merely retained), and he spoke to the Muslim world from Turkey. Why when Obama does some of these things are they “important moments of faith” but when Bush did them they were either ignored or labeled problematic? The pandering, watered-down faith of liberals is okay, because it’s politically useful to acknowledge 90 percent of the country. But the faith of conservatives—which most in the press fear is actually sincere—is just scary.
But more to the point, what do lifting restrictions on stem-cell use and subsidizing abortion abroad have to do with faith? Is US News & World Report suggesting that Obama’s philosophy concerning right-to-life issues was informed by his religion and not his liberalism? If so, Obama would be the first to deny it, having always been clear that his faith is private, and doesn’t color his politics. (I thought that was the reason the liberal media loved him so.)
But most ridiculous is the suggestion that, along with millions of other Catholics, Vice President Biden’s going to church on Ash Wednesday was somehow an “important faith moment”—for Obama. It proves just how far US News had to stretch to get this list to ten. The bottom line is, the only important faith moments Obama has had are those that have deeply offended the faithful. It isn’t likely we’ll see that Top Ten in the liberal press any time soon.
AND THE ATHEISTS TAKE OVER THE EARTH
While the mainstream media may be uncomfortable with public displays of worship, it just adores public attacks on them.
Though the New York Times didn’t report Obama’s ducking the National Day of Prayer, it did cover a group trying to block it. The Freedom From Religion Foundation, the country’s largest group of atheists and agnostics, filed a lawsuit seeking to bar an engraving of “In God We Trust” and the Pledge of Allegiance at the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, as well as to ban the National Day of Prayer.13USA Today also covered it.14 When a fringe group of atheists attacks religion, it’s newsworthy, but when the president of the United States offends the faithful, it’s ignored or celebrated.
USA Today reported on a similar incident, when a group of atheists and agnostics challenged the city of Warren, Michigan, for allowing a church to set up a prayer station at a city office.15 And the New York Times hosted an online debate between a number of supposed scholars on whether roadside memorials that include crosses are unconstitutional after a number of atheists complained that they had to see religious imagery on the side of the highway from time to time, at sixty miles an hour.16 That one-sixteenth of a second must be unbearable.
USA Today featured a story by the usually restrained Cathy Lynn Grossman questioning the relevance of saying “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance in 2008. In it, she wrote that because the phrase wasn’t added until 1954, we should drop it entirely. “When I read about civic battles today to add the name of God or a Ten Commandments to every public event or venue, I wonder: What is the desired effect to adding—or blocking—this? Do you have to say ‘God’ everywhere to know God? To develop good values?”17
Who’s trying to add the name of God to every public event or venue? The better question is, Will removing “God” from every public space and our national motto, anthem, and currency ever remove God from American consciousness? Or is it just an affront to a sweeping majority of the population geared to make a few feel more comfortable?
And then there was Michael Newdow, God’s gift to the secular, liberal press. The Sacramento Bee, the Seattle Times, the Tampa Tribune, the Associated Press, the Charlotte Observer, the Kansas City Star, the Sacramento Union, USA Today, CNN, the Oakland Tribune, and many others all covered the atheist gadfly’s fight to get the phrase “In God We Trust” off coins and currency and removed as our national motto in 2005 and 2006.
When he sued to get “under God” out of the Pledge of Allegiance, the San Francisco Chronicle was there, as was the Boston Globe, the Philadelphia Inquirer, USA Today, Time magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Tampa Tribune, CNN, New York Newsday, and dozens of others.
And when Newdow and a group of atheists wanted “so help me God” stricken from Barack Obama’s inaugural oath, the Miami Herald was there. So were the Brisbane Times, the Washington Post, Newsweek, USA Today, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Los Angeles Times, and more.
Newsweek’s Lisa Miller, in fact, sided with Newdow, suggesting that saying “So help me God” might not be appropriate—since we don’t know what our forefathers said at their inaugurations.
“We have no idea what most 19th-century presidents have said about God as they were sworn in because for most of American history there were no microphones and no recording devices. Legend has it that George Washington said ‘So help me God’ at his Inauguration, but new scholarship shows that this story may be as apocryphal as the one about the cherry tree.”18
Well, so what? By that logic, we should have flown the original American flag, the one that recognized only thirteen colonies, at Obama’s inauguration. And forbade minorities and women to attend. And we should have put the president in a wig, since we know Washington wore one. This kind of reasoning couldn’t get any more arbitrary. Regardless, Newsweek wasn’t there only to cover the story; it was there to promote it.
But Miller also thought Obama’s inauguration would be the perfect opportunity to reach out to atheists in America. And why? Because we’re fighting “religious fundamentalists abroad,” and acting too God-crazy might make the terrorists angry. Seriously.
“Our new president might use his inauguration then to showcase the values that have made this country great: pluralism, moderation—and the separation of church and state. Though not as politically expedient, the better choice might be to pray in private.”
Miller’s suggestion that we should hide our religion from terrorists is alarming enough. Kowtowing to mass murderers so as not to tick them off is akin to negotiating with them, something the United States isn’t supposed to do. But there’s another flaw in her argument. If what makes this country great is pluralism, then the plurality of its faithful should be acknowledged and even celebrated, not watered down and shoved under the rug. Miller may be embarrassed by the American faithful. But the president shouldn’t be. A presidential rejection of prayer is a presidential rejection of the majority, and therefore a presidential rejection of democracy itself.
It’s not that these stories about random acts of atheist revolt aren’t interesting, especially when an atheist’s challenge makes it all the way to the Supreme Court, as Newdow’s did. They should be covered. But why are one atheist’s views legitimized by the press, while those of millions of Christians aren’t? Why does Newdow offer “an important lesson in American history and public piety,” as Miller suggests, while millions of Christians are somehow fanatical? Worse than being offensive, this is simply intellectually dishonest. The joke is that the maudlin pleas by outlets like Newsweek for pluralism and tolerance and inclusion inexplicably don’t apply to the Christian majority. If American democracy gives its imprimatur to these pieties of equality, then they should work for all Americans, not just a few. A rising tide lifts all boats, as John F. Kennedy once said. But the media is going a step further. It isn’t just selectively pushing tolerance for its own pet causes in secularism and liberalism—it’s turning it against the majority, to paint Christian America as intolerant, fanatical, and oppressive. The media wants you to side with secularism, when it’s not the role of the media to take sides or implore you to do the same. It’s a breach of trust, and a failure of a supposedly honest press. Once again, the media is manipulating you.
THE TWELVE DAYS OF (INSERTNONDENOMINATIONAL HOLIDAY HERE)
The war against Christmas has been raging for years, with angry opponents and their liberal elected officials looking to rid the country of the sacred holiday once and for all. In 2004 and 2005 the culture war came to a fever pitch, with stories emerging across the country of protests against everything from Christmas plays and Christmas trees in town squares to the uttering of “Merry Christmas” at shopping malls. The liberal media alleged the war on Christmas was fabricated, entirely made up by right-wing nutjobs. When David Letterman interviewed Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly about it on his late-night television show just after the 2005 holiday season, he told O’Reilly, “I just think that people like you are trying to make us think it’s a threat. I don’t believe you, I think you’re making it up.”19
In the New York Times, Frank Rich likened the idea of a war on Christmas to the kind of trumped-up hysteria manufactured by Orson Welles’s radio broadcast of the fictional War of the Worlds, calling it a “fake war on Christmas” drummed up by the shadowy, mustache-twisting conspiratorialists at Fox News in an effort to distract us all from the war in Iraq.20 Talk about manufactured hysteria… .
And Salon.com’s self-proclaimed secularist, Michelle Goldberg, continuing the theme of right-wing religious conspirators, said that the so-called war on Christmas was about more than just representation: “These fights are not about the right of values evangelicals to be heard. They are about their right to rule.”21 Goldberg, like most of the liberal press, likens evangelicals and Christians of every stripe to evil dictators, looking to take over the world one Christmas tree at a time.
In December 2005, conservative television personality and economist Ben Stein may have addressed the nonsense best when he laid out some of his views on the political correctness of the holiday season on the CBS Sunday Morning Show:
I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees Christmas trees. I don’t feel threatened. I don’t feel discriminated against. That’s what they are: Christmas trees. It doesn’t bother me a bit when people say, “Merry Christmas” to me. I don’t think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto.
I don’t like getting pushed around for being a Jew and I don’t think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can’t find it in the Constitution and I don’t like it being shoved down my throat.22
The majority of the country doesn’t either. But the liberal media doesn’t want you to know that.
When the town of Patchogue, New York, suddenly changed the name of its annual Christmas Boat Parade to the Holiday Boat Parade in 2008 at the request of a few offended residents, Grucci, the venerable fireworks company, pulled out of participating. Grucci vice president Philip Butler, a vocal opponent of the secularization of Christmas, said parade organizers were “using all the themes of Christmas and plagiarizing all those themes.”23
Grucci has produced the fireworks displays at seven presidential inaugurations, the U.S. bicentennial, and three Olympics ceremonies. Their stand against the renaming of Christmas should have been a fairly well-covered story across the country. Yet Fox News and the New York Post were the only major media outlets to cover the Grucci boycott.
Though it may have totally ignored this story, during the lead-up to the 2008 presidential campaign the liberal media pounced readily on another one that, well, wasn’t really a story at all.
In December 2007, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee released a campaign ad before the holidays to wish the country a Merry Christmas. In it, the Southern Baptist minister asked viewers if they were “about worn out of all the television commercials you’ve been seeing, mostly about politics.” He stood in front of a Christmas tree in a red sweater with “Silent Night” playing in the background, and his message was simple and to the point: “Merry Christmas,” from one Christian to another.
Yet, in something out of Conspiracy Theories for Dummies, the liberal press decided the intersection of what Huckabee told me was merely a bookshelf in his friend’s house was a subliminal cross, meant to telegraph to the country an overtly Christian message—as if the Baptist minister wishing Christians a Merry Christmas was trying to hide a well-kept secret affinity for Jesus.
The idea that Huckabee was trying to channel Christ through a bookshelf is preposterous enough. But the liberal media’s obsession with the nonstory was even worse.
USA Today, the Boston Globe, MSNBC, the Chicago Sun-Times, CBS News, Time magazine, NPR, and countless others ran with the story that there was some kind of hysterical national controversy over the commercial. While it was true that some Republicans criticized the ad, that was news only if you believe political campaigns are fought over tea and biscuits, and not in a boxing ring.
The Washington Post’s Joel Achenbach wrote of the contrived brouhaha that only the media seemed to be generating, “No Christmas ad has generated as much interest and controversy as the one from Huckabee, a kind of visual Hallmark card in which the candidate talks directly to the camera about celebrating ‘the birth of Christ.’ The spot incited much Internet buzz about whether it contains a subliminal image of a cross in the background.”24
Wait, hold the phone—Governor Huckabee spoke “directly to the camera about celebrating ‘the birth of Christ’”? Can he do that?! Notify the God squad and arrest that man!
ABC News also ran a story, one dripping with contempt for Huckabee. After the governor had huge and unexpected success in Iowa—despite the “controversial” ad—Tahman Bradley and Talal Al-Khatib wrote a story about the Republican candidate called “How the Grinch Stole Iowa.”25
CNN’s Anderson Cooper devoted an entire segment to the flap, complete with dueling guests, on his 360 Degrees program on December 17. Huckabee’s Merry Christmas ad was—no joke—his lead story.
“Tonight Mike Huckabee, out in front in Iowa, releases a new ad wishing voters a Merry Christmas and controversy erupts over his bringing Christ into it. We’re digging deeper on that and keeping them honest on what’s driving his surging campaign.”26
Digging deeper on what? Keeping who honest? Was Cooper suggesting some shadowy cabal of stealth Christians or ninja altar boys were secretly “driving his surging campaign”? When did CNN’s silver-haired anchor become a conspiracy theorist?
And Salon.com got in on the action, dispatching liberal-in-chief Glenn Greenwald to pen something pithy about the whole unbelievable thing. Referring to the “GOP establishment,” he writes: “On a more festive and Christmas-appropriate note, one of the most joyous aspects of this holiday is that people who devote every day, all year long, to spewing unbridled anger, resentment, hostility and palpable hatred towards an ever-expanding roster of Enemies—immigrants, liberals, Muslims, war opponents, treasonous journalists—put all that aside for part of a day and publicly show everyone that they realize what is truly important, who they really are.”27
Even Rolling Stone had something to say about it, and (sort of) commended Huckabee’s response to all the undeserved commotion. In making light of the situation, and subtly ridiculing the conspiracies surrounding his simple ad, Huckabee said, “I will confess this: If you play the spot backwards it says ‘Paul is dead. Paul is dead.’”
For that nod to the Beatles, Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson wrote, “I gotta give the Huckster credit. When’s the last time we saw a member of the religious right who was fluent enough in the touchstones of the 60’s left to pull off [a Beatles reference]? Seriously. Here he is with a vote-for-me-and-baby-Jesus ad … and Huckabee defuses the tension he’s created with a joke about the White Album? As if to say, how much of a Jesus freak can I be if I also know how to play ‘Jesus is Just Alright’?”28
Besides the condescending assumptions by Dickinson that Huckabee and other Christians must be out-of-touch “Jesus freaks,” it’s likely the “Huckster” took this as a compliment. Anyone who knows him can attest he’s got a well-developed sense of humor. You know, for a Jesus freak. (He told me that he found the whole thing hilarious.) But let’s not tell him that the title of Dickinson’s piece was “The Evil Genius of Mike Huckabee.”
Huckabee’s instinct to brush off the attacks against him and Christian America by the left-wing media is a good one, and probably what keeps him sane. And Ben Stein’s effort to make sense of all the preposterous political correctness around public worship is also an attempt to politely deal with an aggressive attack machine that seems hell-bent on putting the faithful in their place—which is in the closet.
In 2009, the war on Christmas raged anew. Atheists in Illinois and Arkansas fought to get their beliefs positioned next to those of the faithful in the state capitols. In Springfield, Illinois, the Freedom From Religion Foundation erected its winter solstice display next to a Christian nativity scene, a Jewish menorah, and a bizarre display by the ACLU. The declaration read:
At this season of the winter solstice, may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.
It was also joined by a comment from the Friends of Festivus, a group celebrating the fictional holiday invented by a Seinfeld character more than a decade ago. Nice. A federal judge also allowed the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers to display a four-sided sign honoring the winter solstice and famous atheists throughout time. The states complied, of course, because they wanted to avoid a “controversy.” Let’s examine how much sense that makes. Bowing to the whims of a tiny minority—how many Festivus adherents can there really be?—so as to avoid a “controversy” with 90 percent of the country who believe in God is in fact begging for a controversy. And they got one. Christians from all over the country rightly complained that propping up the aggressive anti-God attacks of a select few on one of the world’s holiest of days is not “inclusion.” It’s un-American. Christmas and Hannukah have nothing to do with atheism, so acknowledging it in a holiday display is not only incongruous, it’s an implicit and wholly unnecessary assault on the faithful. But the media didn’t see it that way—countless liberal outlets asked what all the fuss was about. Fox News covered the war on Christmas, while MSNBC, CNN, and the rest told their viewers it didn’t really exist.
I am a nonbeliever. Yet I easily identify with both Huckabee and Stein in wanting to get to the bottom of this marginalization of the faithful. I don’t need to feel “represented” in my beliefs, nor do I need the president to publicly and officially “recognize” them. But here’s the bottom line: If atheists are so opposed to public displays of worship, why the heck are they so pleased when they get a public shout-out?
In 2009, a Sonoma, California, man fought to get an angel removed from atop Christmas trees in government buildings, arguing that it was “very offensive to agnostics, atheists, and those who believe in separation of church and state to be subjected to this by their government.”29 Very offensive? What exactly were nonbelievers being subjected to? The state can acknowledge religious America without breaking the boundary between church and state—and it does so all the time. Christmas is a national holiday, for one. Federal employees are given the day off. President Obama acknowledged the Muslim feast of Ramadan with an official state dinner. The White House celebrates Christmas and prominently displays its own Christmas tree. Acknowledging the importance of religion—with a Christmas tree, a National Day of Prayer, or a God and Country military flyover—isn’t subjecting nonbelievers to anything. No one is forcing them to participate, or even agree.
Public worship isn’t an affront to secular America. It’s a celebration of both individual faith and the values upon which this country was founded. The media’s attack on those values is a threat to everyone because it means those within the press are now comfortable taking the liberty to demean and suppress any and all values—it might be the National Day of Prayer or Christmas today, but who’s to say it won’t be the values you or your grandchildren hold most sacred tomorrow? If the media can so brazenly go after the majority, why wouldn’t it eventually go after the minority?
Indeed, Christians will become the minority if, in the interest of avoiding a “controversy,” so many willingly succumb to the media’s assaults. The secular Left is embracing the controversy, and they’re winning, while religious America is fleeing from it, and losing. If Christians think that there’s no real danger in letting the mainstream media take regular potshots at them, they’re dead wrong. The media is giving a massive microphone to the anti-Christian extremists in the explicit hope that they succeed. Christians, if they care about their way of life, should fight back against the tyrannical media with as much vitriol and aggression as the godless Left is fighting them with.
Pretty soon the war won’t be over Nativity scenes and Christmas trees in the town square—it will be over Nativity scenes and Christmas trees in their own homes. Does that sound paranoid? What’s to stop the secular Left from ridding all of America of religious acts of devotion? They are already telling us what kinds of lightbulbs to use in our homes. They’re telling us we can’t smoke in our own homes. They’re regulating our water and our fast food and our soda consumption. And all with the help of an eager leftist press that is telling you in newspapers, on the radio, over the internet, and on television that you’re a bad person if you neglect the environment, eat McDonald’s, smoke too much, or drive a pickup truck. The liberal secular press is already attacking your values. Attacking your God is implied. If you follow the media’s assault on Christianity to its logical conclusion, the fight to preserve Christian values and public worship will be over when there’s nothing left to preserve.
1 Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar, “American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) 2008” (PDF). Hartford, Conn.: Trinity College, 2009.
2 Steven Waldman, “Obama Touches the Untouchables: Non-Believers,” Huffington Post, Jan. 20, 2009.
3 Greg M. Epstein, “Nonbelievers Are Believers Too,” Washington Post, Jan. 23, 2009.
4 Laura Meckler, “Obama Walks Religious Tightrope Spanning Faithful, Nonbelievers,” Wall Street Journal, March 24, 2009.
5 Foxnews.com, “Georgetown University Hid Religious Symbols at White House Request,” April 16, 2009.
6 Holly Bailey, “Obama at Georgetown: WWJD?” Newsweek.com, April 17, 2009.
7 Dan Froomkin, “Obama Connects Most of the Dots,” Washington Post, April 14, 2009.
8 Kristi Keck, “Obama Tones Down National Day of Prayer Observance,” CNN.com, May 6, 2009.
9 Associated Press, “Obama Signs Day of Prayer Proclamation,” MSNBC.com, May 7, 2009.
10 Rachel Maddow, The Rachel Maddow Show, MSNBC, May 7, 2009.
11 Chris Rodda, “MRFF Congratulates Obama Administration and US Air Force for Doing the Right Thing,” Huffington Post, July 6, 2009.
12 Dan Gilgoff, “Ten Obama Faith Moments,” US News & World Report, April 2009.
13 Associated Press, “Group Seeks to Bar Religious Inscriptions,” New York Times, July 15, 2009.
14 Lindsay Perna, “Atheists Sue to Stop ‘In God We Trust’ in Capitol Visitor’s Center,” USA Today, July 17, 2009.
15 Doug Stanglin, “Atheist Group Blasts ‘Prayer Station’ in City Building,” USA Today, June 22, 2009.
16 “Should Roadside Memorials Be Banned?” New York Times, July 12, 2009.
17 Cathy Lynn Grossman, “The ‘Greatest Generation’ Didn’t Pledge ‘Under God,’” USA Today, Dec. 1, 2008.
18 Lisa Miller, “God and the Oath of Office,” Newsweek, Jan. 10, 2009.
19 David Letterman, Late Show With David Letterman, CBS, Jan. 3, 2006.
20 Frank Rich, “I Saw Jackie Mason Kissing Santa Claus,” New York Times, Dec. 25, 2005.
21 Michelle Goldberg, “One Nation, Divisible,” Salon.com, July 23, 2005.
22 Ben Stein, CBS Sunday Morning Show, Dec. 19, 2005.
23 “New York Town’s Parade Draws Fire for Dropping ‘Christmas,’” Foxnews.com, Oct. 24, 2008.
24 Joel Achenbach, “Christmas Cheer, Campaigns an Awkward Mix for Iowa Voters,” Washington Post, Dec. 24, 2007.
25 Tahman Bradley and Talal Al-Khatib, “How the Grinch Stole Iowa,” ABCNews.com, Dec. 19, 2007.
26 Anderson Cooper, Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees, CNN, Dec. 17, 2007.
27 Glenn Greenwald, “Political Christmas Wishes,” Salon.com, Dec. 25, 2007.
28 Tim Dickinson, “The Evil Genius of Mike Huckabee,” Rolling Stone, Dec. 19, 2007.
29 Jesse McKinley, “In Reversal, Stars Adorn Trees Again,” New York Times, Dec. 24, 2009.
© 2010 S. E. Cupp