Tuesday, December 05, 2006
by Wayne Besen
A couple of weeks ago I railed against the Religious Right for turning Santa Claus into a wedge issue with their obnoxious and offensive "War on Christmas" initiative. Through a pressure campaign, extremist groups forced major retailers, including Wal-Mart and Walgreen Co. to replace inclusive "Happy Holiday" greetings in stores with the more in-your-face "Merry Christmas."
While I love the joyous "Christmas spirit," my main point was that the insidious purpose behind this campaign was to force non-Christians into paying homage to the right wing's pale-skinned, suburban, Republican Jesus. After all, if you are Jewish, and a well-meaning, broad grinned store clerk bellows, "Merry Christmas," how else can you reply but, "Merry Christmas?"
Well, you can get into a tit-for-tat by barking "Happy Chanukah," but that tactic gets tiresome and silly when you are snarling at a store employee that has been ordered to greet you that way.
In response to this column, several letter writers pilloried me by claiming I was a big liberal crybaby who was reading too much into this campaign. The last thing the fundamentalists would ever want to do, they pleaded, was force their beliefs on anyone. The issue, they said, was about religious freedom and allowing God back into the public square.
The question is, whose God?
The Leviticus-spouting loons are now up in arms because Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., has said that he wants to take his Congressional oath with his hand on the Koran instead of the Bible.
This makes perfect sense, considering a Muslim taking an oath with his hand on the Koran has infinitely more meaning to him than using another religious text. The question is why any rational person would object to this reasonable request? Unless, of course, the hidden agenda is to send a message to religious minorities that Christianity is the supreme religion in America.
The American Family Association - a group behind much of the War on Christmas farce - wasted no time launching a campaign against Ellison. The AFA breathlessly urged supporters to "take action" by bullying members of Congress to "pass a law making the Bible the book used in the swearing-in ceremony of Representatives and Senators."
Again, why would a Christian group want to compel a Muslim to swear on the Christian holy book?
Right wing columnist Dennis Prager answered this question on AFA's website by ranting that Ellison's use of the Koran "undermines American civilization." It is interesting that the same hysterical verbiage used to prohibit same-sex marriage has now become a club against others who disagree with the fundamentalists.
Prager went on to make the outrageous claim that only one holy book represents America, even though there are literally thousands of religious belief systems in this nation.
"Forgive me, but America should not give a hoot what Keith Ellison's favorite book is," wrote Prager. "Insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned, America is interested in only one book, the Bible. If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don't serve in Congress."
So, there you have it in a nutshell. The "War on Christmas" and the "War on Gay Marriage" and the "War on Rep. Ellison" are cut from the same intolerant cloth. If you donâ€™t submit to the will of the right wing, the penalty is persecution and exclusion from civil society.
If you want to shop in December, you will say Merry Christmas and listen to Silent Night. If you want your relationship recognized, you will marry a person of a gender approved by the AFA's Bible. If you desire serving this nation in Congress, you must swear by a book you don't believe in. Sounds like a free country, doesn't it?
Prager and his ilk have a poor understanding of America and seek to make this nation the Christian version of Iran. The only time Prager makes sense is when he argues that if we allow Ellison to take an oath on the Koran, it will open the door to other religious texts in such ceremonies. But so what if this happens? It would only strengthen America and our tradition of religious freedom.
In the same vain, the family of an American soldier recently killed in action had to continue fighting for his rights even after his death. They wanted to have on his marker the Wicken symbol denoting his spiritual belief. Although his family's wishes were upheld, they should not have even been questioned.
In America, there can be no religious test for patriotism or public office, but that is exactly what busybodies like Prager are proposing. If this ruinous vision ever prevails, America, as we know it, will have ceased to exist. And I swear by that, on whatever book I so choose.
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