Inside the First Amendment - No need to worry Santa, the ‘war on Christmas’ isn’t real

  • Written by Charles C. Haynes

  When I read that 52 percent of American adults say they believe in Santa Claus (according to a survey from Public Policy Polling), I wasn’t surprised to learn in the same poll that 42 percent also believe there is a “war on Christmas.”
  After all (spoiler alert), both are figments of the imagination.
  Belief in Santa, at least, perpetuates a spirit of joy and goodwill. But the “war on Christmas” narrative, by contrast, does little more than stir up anger and ill will.
 Like so much else surrounding the commercial Christmas, the “war on Christmas” has become a lucrative franchise guaranteed to boost ratings for talk show hosts and book sales for culture warriors.
  Much of the outrage — real or feigned — appears to be provoked by recent trends toward inclusion, such as employers instructing workers to say “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” and re-christening the Christmas tree “holiday.” What store owners or schoolteachers view as inclusive language, culture warriors condemn as part of the vast left-wing conspiracy to drive Christianity from the public square.
  Yes, I recognize that there are knuckleheads out there who mandate “holidays” and banish “Christmas” in ways that are unnecessary, silly and offensive to many people of faith. But do bungled efforts at “inclusion” rise to the level of an organized “war” against Christians? I don’t think so.
  In reality, the shift from the religious Christmas to a secular holiday is nothing new or planned. Cultural Christmas in America — celebrations that culture warriors insist we call “Christmas” — has had little to do with Christ for a very long time. From the emergence of jolly St. Nick in the 19th century to the economic engine of today, Christmas-sans-Christ has a life of its own in the popular imagination.
  Consider “Miracle on 34th Street,” a film made in 1947 and re-watched annually by millions of Americans. Like many of the other Hollywood Christmas movies, it has lots of Christmas spirit, gift-giving, warm-hearted family scenes — but nary a mention of the Reason for the Season.
  Hand wringing about Christmas without Christ is a time-honored tradition in American history, starting with the 17th century Puritans of New England. For our Puritan forbearers, Dec. 25 feasts and celebrations were an abomination — a sinful holiday held on a day stolen from pagans, filled with trees, mistletoe and other pagan trappings that have nothing to do with the birth of Jesus (which almost certainly took place at another time of year).
  Before the advent of church-state separation, Christmas was suppressed in New England. The Puritan “war on Christmas” was the real deal.
  Consider the rich irony, then, of latter-day Christians fighting to keep the Christian label on pagan rituals. If Christians on the front lines of the Christmas wars really want to reclaim Christmas for Christ, they could start by giving the pagans back their holiday and trees — and advocate re-naming the shopping mall Christmas “happy holidays.”
  But truth be told, the Christmas wars are less about faith and Jesus and more about power and politics. For many of the folks upset about “happy holidays,” losing “Christmas” — however tacky the application of the label — is yet another sign of losing ground to a different, more religiously diverse America.
 For faithful Christians, however, loss of cultural dominance could ultimately mean gain for authentic religion. As “happy holidays” takes over in the marketplace, Christians can save “Christmas” for the Savior.

Charles C. Haynes is director of the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute, 555 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20001. Web: Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Inside the First Amendment — Reporting JFK’s death: 50 years of facts, theories

  • Written by Gene Policinski

  The commemoration on Nov. 22 of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy is also a reminder — a stark and somber one, to be sure — of journalism as some call it: “the first draft of history.”

  From the time that three shots were fired in Dallas at the presidential motorcade on Nov. 22, 1963, that “first draft” of reporting about the tragedy reached Americans in a manner unique in history.
  Never before had an entire nation received and shared so much information at the same instant, so quickly and so widely. Of course, missteps, misinformation and rumor, combined with the speed of those events, all but guaranteed that a companion “conspiracy press” would grow up almost as quickly as events were reported.
  From the official Warren Report — itself the subject of much second-guessing — and from news reports then and now, here’s a consensus timeline of those initial hours and days in which the nation learned by news bulletin, extra-edition newspaper headlines and through unprecedented, non-stop TV network coverage, about what had happened in Dallas:
  • Kennedy is shot at about 12:30 p.m. CT. Within seconds, the presidential car speeds away from the rest of the motorcade, reaching 80 miles per hour at some spots in the four-mile trip to Parkland Memorial Hospital, arriving about 12:35 p.m.
  • The first news service bulletin, from United Press International, reached the nation’s newsrooms at 12:34 p.m. as shown on a paper copy of the bulletin shown online. Dictated by correspondent Merriman Smith, who was first to grab the press car’s radio-telephone, the bulletin says that three shots have been fired at the presidential motorcade. The ABC Radio Network reports the shooting at 12:36 p.m.
  • Lee Harvey Oswald is out of the Texas Book Depository in less than three minutes after the shooting, the report says. Just a little more than 40 minutes later, at about 1:15 p.m., after walking several city blocks, riding a city bus and changing clothes, Oswald is stopped by Dallas police office J.D. Tippit. Oswald shoots Tippit with a handgun. Within 35 minutes of the killing of Patrolman Tippit, Oswald is arrested by Dallas police, who find him hiding in a movie theater. At 11:26 p.m., Oswald is also charged with shooting Kennedy.
  • On Air Force One, at 2:38 p.m., Lyndon Johnson takes the oath of office as the 36th President. Just nine minutes later the flight to Washington, D.C., lifts off. At 5:58 p.m., Air Force One lands at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside the district. Kennedy had begun his trip to Texas from Andrews only 31 hours earlier.
  • Two days later, Oswald is fatally shot at 11:41 a.m. Sunday, in the basement of the Dallas Police Department building by Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner. This shooting takes place in full view of a national television audience and a host of news photographers.
  In following days, the nation was provided non-stop coverage by the then-three TV networks, NBC, CBS and ABC, of the funeral preparations, and the funeral itself, right through the procession to Arlington Cemetery and the lighting of an “eternal flame” over Kennedy’s grave.
  In this pre-cell phone, pre-internet, still early-days of TV, reporters on the scene scrambled to find pay phones to call in stories or news tips. Networks sometimes had to show anchors literally repeating one-air what they heard over a telephone handset held to one ear. Wire services communicated with each other and newsrooms over achingly-slow teletype machines. No instant messages, no e-mail and yet the first rudimentary steps were taken toward what eventually would become the “24/7” news cycle.
  One indisputable fact from all of that reporting remains true a half-century later: There is no credible report of government censorship at that moment, or of an estimated 22,000 books since written about JFK, or of the seemingly inexhaustible supply of published theories on “what really happened,” such as Oliver Stone’s 1991 film “JFK” about attempts by New Orleans prosecutor Jim Garrison to find a conspiracy behind Kennedy’s death.
  It’s fashionable to remark “we may never know” the ultimate answers to questions about reports of various conspiracies around Kennedy’s death, or be able to completely put to rest rumors of shots fired from the famed “grassy knoll,” or even know with certainty what Jack Ruby’s “real” motives were in shooting Oswald.
  But outside of the most-rabid conspiracy circles, it’s fair to say “we know much more” thanks to a half-century of news and information brought to us unfettered by government censorship.

Gene Policinski is chief operating officer of the Newseum Institute and senior vice president of the Institute’s First Amendment Center. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Local View — ‘Afterthought’ Gettysburg Address stands the test of time

  • Written by Don C. White

  Note: With the passing of the 150th anniversary of The Gettysburg Address, Palos Hills historian Don C. White takes a look at its significance.

  On November 19, 1863 at Gettysburg, PA — President Abraham Lincoln gave one of the most profound speeches in his life and one that has stood the test of time as we study it yet today.

  The battle of Gettysburg was fought on July 1st through 3rd of July 1863.
  After the battle, the remains of the Union and Confederate dead had to be laid to rest. Governor Andrew Gregg Curtin of Pennsylvania soon saw to the establishment of a cemetery at Gettysburg for the burial of the Union dead. It would not be until 1877-1879 that the remains of Confederate dead were removed to Richmond, VA and interred in the Hollywood Cemetery.
  The dedication of the Gettysburg cemetery was to take place on November 19, 1863. Edward Everett, the foremost orator of the day, was asked to give the main address. Almost as an afterthought, President Lincoln was asked to say a few appropriate remarks and that was how his “Gettysburg Address” came to be.
  There are some things that you may not know about the address such as how many copies exist in Lincoln’s hand? I didn’t know, so I talked with a fellow at the Lincoln Library in Springfield a few years ago. He told me there were five copies in Lincoln’s hand.
  They are as follows: Copy No. 1 was the Nicolay copy (one of Lincoln’s secretaries) which is in the Library of Congress. Copy No. 2 was the Hay copy (one of Lincoln’s secretaries) which is also in the Library of Congress. Copy No. 3 is the Everett Copy which is in the Lincoln Library at Springfield. Copy No. 4 is the Bancroft copy which is at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. Copy No. 5 is the Bliss Copy which is in the Lincoln Bedroom at the White House.
  The Brancroft and Bliss copies were to be sold at the Baltimore Sanitary Fair. But Bancroft kept the first copy. Alexander Bliss, Bancroft’s stepson and a member of the Baltimore Sanitary Fair Committee, prepared an autograph anthology for which he handled the second copy, which he kept. So, instead of being sold at the time, each stayed in the possession of their respective families well into the 20th century.
  I asked about the “Wills copy” and was told there is no record of Wills ever having received a copy; he could have, but no one knows for sure. David Wills was the man assigned by Curtin to oversee the purchase of land for the cemetery, arrange for the burials and organize the dedication ceremony. Many years ago at a sale of Wills’ documents and books a copy of the address was offered, but it proved to be a fake.
  So, there is no copy at the Gettysburg Battlefield site. I do know that the Springfield Copy has been on loan to Gettysburg in the past. I talked with one of my roundtable friends and he was on a tour of the Lincoln Library and got to see the copy of the Gettysburg Address.
  Through the years other copies have appeared, but all have proven to be forgeries. If a copy were to be found, it would fetch a handsome sum — in the millions.
  Quoting from Gabor Boritt’s book, “The Gettysburg Gospel,” he said “In 1963, David C. Mearns wrote from the Library of Congress to Ralph Newman, a Lincoln expert and the owner at that time of the Abraham Lincoln Bookshop in Chicago, that he had before him…a newly discovered Gettysburg Address. First in the keeping of one John Carter, It was next consigned for sale at Sotheby’s and then turned up as property of “Chris R. Ring . . . Mearns was dubious about the document’s authenticity, ‘I never confided my uneasiness to anyone else, but you chaps are different,’ he told Newman. In time, this simulated copy of the Gettysburg address appears to have disappeared.”
  Edward Everett spoke for over two hours on November 19, 1863. How many of us remember anything from his speech? Abraham Lincoln spoke for a little over two minutes. He spoke approximately 272 words (number of words from the copy that is mostly used today) and those words live on in our hearts and minds yet today. Are school children today required to learn and recite the address today? I certainly hope so.
  William E. Barton in his book “The Life of Abraham Lincoln” said this about the Gettysburg Address: “(It) is far more than a pleasing piece of occasional oratory. It is a marvelous piece of English composition. It is a pure well of English undefiled. It sets one to inquiring with nothing short of wonder ‘how knoweth this man letters, having never learned?’ The more closely the address is analyzed the more one must confess astonishment at its choice of words, the precision of its thought, its simplicity, directness and effectiveness.”

  For those who would like to enjoy it again, here is the Gettysburg Address:

  “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
  “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
  “But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.
  “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Inside the First Amendment - At the Supreme Court, the politics of public prayer

  • Written by Charles C. Haynes

 The U.S. Supreme Court was to hear oral arguments Wednesday in Town of Greece, N.Y. v. Galloway — a case that revisits the volatile issue of public prayers in government settings.
  It’s been 30 years since the Court upheld the constitutionality of legislative prayers in Marsh v. Chambers, citing the “unbroken history” of such prayers dating back to the founding of the nation.
  According to the majority opinion in Marsh, legislatures, city councils and other government bodies may open their sessions with prayer, as long as the prayer isn’t used to “proselytize or advance any one, or to disparage any other, faith or belief.”
  But rather than ending the fight over public prayers, the Court’s murky guidance in Marsh has caused widespread confusion and conflict over who gets to pray and what they can say. What has been ruled legal by a lower court in one part of the country has been struck down as illegal in another.
  Now a case involving the “prayer policy” of the Town Board in Greece, New York gives the justices an opportunity to clear up the mess created by Marsh.
  At issue is the town’s practice of soliciting volunteers to be the “chaplain of the month,” free to determine the content of his or her prayers. In a decade of prayer giving at Town Board meetings, Christian clergy have offered the vast majority of the prayers — frequently “in the name of Christ.”
  Does Greece’s prayer policy result in government endorsement of one religion over others, as critics charge? Or does the fact that prayer-givers are volunteers make the prayers constitutional, even if most of the prayers are from one faith? Do legislative prayers need to be “non-sectarian” to avoid proselytizing?
  After the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the policy violates the Establishment clause of the First Amendment, the town appealed to the Supreme Court.
  Short of overturning Marsh and ruling all legislative prayers unconstitutional (a very unlikely outcome), none of the answers the High Court can give to these questions will end the battle over legislative prayer.
  That’s because the fight isn’t really about prayer; it’s about power and politics.
  Most of the litigation challenging legislative prayer comes out of communities where members of the majority faith are determined to keep the practice. Although they must allow people of other religions to participate or risk losing the prayers, they often find creative ways to ensure that most of the prayers reflect their faith.
  For proponents of legislative prayer, the issue seems to be less about the act of prayer and more about the symbolic act of re-affirming America’s dependence on the God of the Bible. For these Americans, ending legislative prayer would be tantamount to re-defining the nation.
  If the issue were really about providing opportunities for authentic prayer, the solution would be creating a moment of silence where each person could pray (or not) as conscience dictates. The answer would not be government-sponsored prayers that either impose one God on everyone or offer “universal” supplications to no God in particular.
  People of faith (any and all faiths) who care about authentic prayer should be first in line to get the government out of the prayer business. The integrity and autonomy of religion is undermined when government officials determine who gets to pray and who does not — or when prayers are “proselytizing” and when they are not.
  No matter how the Supreme Court re-draws the guidelines for government-sponsored prayer, the problem remains that government entanglement with prayer always has been and always will be a threat to religious freedom and a recipe for conflict and division.

Charles C. Haynes is director of the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute, 555 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20001. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Viewpoint - Time to double dare Harry Reid to eliminate filibuster

  • Written by Robert Romano

  With Senate Republicans filibustering the nominations of Patricia Ann Millett to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) to be the new head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Senate Democrats are once again threatening to eliminate the filibuster for executive, and now, judicial nominees.

  “If the Republican caucus finds … that somehow a filibuster is warranted, I believe this body will have to consider whether a rules change should be in order. If Republican senators are going to hold nominations hostage without consideration of individual merit, we will have drastic measures,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy in a floor speech.
  “I just think we should bite the bullet and change the rules at this point,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) declared to reporters after the votes.
  Usually, when this happens, Senate Republicans fold and then allow confirmation for the nominees they previously said they opposed.
  That’s what happened this past July, when Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Thomas Perez for the Department of Labor, and Gina McCarthy for the Environmental Protection Agency were all confirmed. That is, after Senate Democrats threatened to torpedo Rule XXII that gives the minority party the power to block almost any floor action.
  “The filibuster on executive nominees has been eliminated in all but name only,” Americans for Limited Government President Nathan Mehrens said at the time.
  “[Senate Republicans] might as well have just changed the rules if they never intend to invoke them to block radical nominees,” he added.
  And that is precisely where the Senate GOP finds itself once again. Whatever their legitimate reasons for blocking Millett and Watt, with Democrats once again threatening to take away the filibuster, it is time to call Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) bluff.

  For, if they intend on caving once again into Reid’s pressure to simply rubber stamp every nominee that the White House puts forward, what is the point of having a filibuster rule in the first place that can never be used?
  They should double dare Reid to kill the filibuster.
  Then, he can do so knowing that when Republicans eventually do reclaim the Senate and the White House, they can confirm anybody they like to rein in the excesses of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Labor, and the Federal Reserve with a simple majority vote.
  Reid can also risk the political fallout of eliminating the filibuster in the 2014 election cycle, when Democrats must defend 21 out of the 35 Senate seats that are up, many in not-so-safe states like Alaska, Louisiana, and West Virginia.
  Sure, there will be those who complain that the Senate’s so-called cooling saucer will have been shattered. Let them.
  There is no point in having a rule to block nominees that is never allowed to be invoked. How, exactly, will the filibuster be saved by promising never to use it again?

Robert Romano is the senior editor of Americans for Limited Government.