Christmas wars

A visit from classic MZ: Concerning 2017's sort-of news about anti-Starbucks evangelicals

A visit from classic MZ: Concerning 2017's sort-of news about anti-Starbucks evangelicals

It's that time of year, again. I know that I keep saying that, but there's no way around it.

It's time for the annual alleged cursing of the Starbucks Holiday cup design.

Once again, several major branches of elite media -- including the all-important New York Times -- are dancing with delight to know that some knuckle-dragging evangelicals are upset with some element of this iconic symbol in the lives of urban consumers of over-priced coffee.

This year, we are talking about a culture wars topic, as well as a new round in the Christmas Wars. Now, in the following Times passage, pay close attention to the sourcing on information about this alleged evangelical cyber-lynch mob. I will then turn things over to M.Z. "GetReligionista Emerita" Hemingway for her Federalist critique of this mess.

The latest controversy has focused ... on a pair of gender-neutral hands holding each other on the side of the cup itself.

Those linked hands came to wider public attention after BuzzFeed published an article about them on Wednesday. It suggested the cup was “totally gay.”
“While people who follow both Starbucks holiday cup news and L.G.B.T. issues celebrated the video, the ordinary Starbucks customer probably didn’t realize the cup might have a gay agenda,” BuzzFeed said.

Thus saith BuzzFeed. Then:

After that, it was off to the races.
Fox News picked up the story of what it called the “androgynous” cartoon hands, referring to Bible-quoting critics of Starbucks and criticizing BuzzFeed, which it said had “asserted the hypothesis is fact.”

Thus saith Fox News, one of our culture's most popular arenas for all things Christmas Wars.

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In this congressional race, the question apparently is: Which candidate loves Jesus more?

In this congressional race, the question apparently is: Which candidate loves Jesus more?

When I got home from work the other day, I found a political flyer on my door.

The full-color leaflet concerned a legislative race in the Oklahoma House district where I live. I don't have the shiny paper handy, but what I remember is: The candidate touts herself as a pastor's daughter and a devoted Christian. Apparently, that kind of thing matters where I live. (Smile.)

Unrelated side note: The woman running for the seat wrote a personal note to our family and said she was sorry she missed us. That'll probably stick with me longer than the mailer itself.

But anyway ...

I bring up the above little anecdote because of an interesting story (to say the least) in the Charlotte Observer this week. 

When I first printed out the piece to read, this was the headline:

Rep. Robert Pittenger airs new ad featuring Jesus Christ

But now there's a new headline, and yes, I'd say this one better nails my question about this U.S. House race:

How did Jesus Christ become an issue in this NC primary?

The lede provides the basic facts:

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Washington Post transportation desk digs into Christmas Wars about Metro advertising

Washington Post transportation desk digs into Christmas Wars about Metro advertising

Oh Christmas wars, oh Christmas wars, they make lawyers flock gladly.

Oh Christmas wars, oh Christmas wars, they drive the news clicks madly ...

Can somebody help me out here?

We really need some kind of Saturday Night Live worthy cold-open anthem that celebrates/mourns the role that First Amendment fights -- as opposed to waves of shopping-mall news -- now play during the weeks that lead up to the Holy Day once known as the Nativity of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ (see "Christmas").

Most of these annual stories are sad jokes, but some have substance. The latest Washington Post report on the mass-transit advertising wars falls into the second category, raising real issues about public discourse (and the First Amendment) in our tense times.

The headline: "Is Metro waging war on Christmas? Archdiocese sues to post biblical-themed bus ads." Here's the low-key, serious overture:

The Archdiocese of Washington is suing Metro after the transit agency rejected an ad for the organization’s annual “Find the Perfect Gift” charitable campaign, which features a biblical Christmas scene.
In the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court on Tuesday, attorneys for the archdiocese argue that Metro’s ban on subway and bus ads that “promote . . . any religion, religious practice or belief” has infringed on the organization’s First Amendment rights. ...
The banner ads, designed to be placed on Metrobus exteriors, are relatively minimalist in their design. The display highlights the phrases “Find the Perfect Gift” and “#PerfectGift,” and includes a link to the campaign’s website, which encourages people to attend Mass or donate to a Catholic charitable groups. The words of the ad are overlaid on a tableau of a starry sky; in the corner are three figures bearing shepherd’s rods, along with two sheep.

As a 10-year (or more) regular on DC mass transit, I totally get why this is such a hot-button issue.

We're talking about messages displayed before some of the most tense, picky and politicized eyeballs on Planet Earth.

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'Twas the week before Christmas and all through The New York Times, the Kellerisms were ...

'Twas the week before Christmas and all through The New York Times, the Kellerisms were ...

If there's a cliché we might do better without, it could be the phrase "War on Christmas." As we head out of cultural Christmas and into the actual 12 days of the Christmas season, let's reflect on that just a bit.

Actually, The New York Times and I might agree about that cliche thing. Of course, the difference is that my opinion is expressed here as a blogger. The Times, on the other hand, puts its position forward in a news article. (And while I write this on the Third Day of Christmas, it's still worth looking back a bit, I believe, as we brace for next year.)

Such an adherence to Kellerism -- the journalism "doctrine" that editors at the Times know who is right and who is not on moral, cultural and religious issues -- isn't surprising. Coming a few days after top Times editor Dean Baquet admitted his reporters "don't get" issues of religion, however, it is a bit of a chin-scratch: Do editors over there, you know, talk to each other?

Here we go:

The idea of a “War on Christmas” has turned things like holiday greetings and decorations into potentially divisive political statements. People who believe Christmas is under attack point to inclusive phrases like “Happy Holidays” as (liberal) insults to Christianity.
For over a decade, these debates have taken place mainly on conservative talk radio and cable programs. But this year they also burst onto a much grander stage: the presidential election.
At a rally in Wisconsin last week, Donald J. Trump stood in front of a line of Christmas trees and repeated a campaign-trail staple.

(Along with the whole talking-to-each-other thing, I also wonder if it is now standard operating procedure for each and every Times article on controversial subjects to have a mandated reference to the soon-coming 45th President of the United States, one Donald J. Trump. If so, it's gonna be a long four years, I'm guessing.)

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Perfectly valid (even if rather bizarre) Christmas wars stories in Texas and South Florida

Perfectly valid (even if rather bizarre) Christmas wars stories in Texas and South Florida

Not all Christmas wars stories are created equal.

The most important ones have something to do with religious believers of all kinds attempting to carve out some space in what is usually called the "public square." We're talking about government or business controlled environments ranging from public schools to shopping malls, from county court house lawns to public parks.

In other words, we're talking about battles over what the Peanuts character Linus can or cannot say in a public-school holiday musical or in a poster about such an event. Here is a case in point, care of The Washington Post, complete with the perfectly normal term religious liberty being wrapped in scare quotes. You know the drill. Let's start with Charlie Brown asking, "Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

Linus, his thumb-sucking and blanket-toting best friend, speaks up.
“Sure, Charlie Brown,” he says. “I can tell you what Christmas is all about.”
Then the character recites a lengthy Bible passage, from the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke, when angels descend upon the flock-tending shepherds to announce the birth of baby Jesus.
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior which is Christ the Lord,” Linus says. “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
It is that quote, extracted from the special’s most overtly Christian scene, that has thrust a Texas middle school nurse’s aide, the school district she works for and the state attorney general into a very public -- and unseasonably bitter -- debate over what “religious liberty” means inside the walls of the state’s public schools.

You can almost write the rest of this story yourself, can't you? 

The key, this time, is that the story actually includes large chunks of material about some of the laws that frame this debate, such as the Merry Christmas Law in Texas that was passed to clarify some U.S. Supreme Court material on such matters.

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'Happy Holidays Charlie Brown'? So what happened in that Kentucky play?

'Happy Holidays Charlie Brown'? So what happened in that Kentucky play?

So what happened? What did Linus van Pelt say?

I am referring, of course, to the controversy that unfolded this past week in Johnson County, Ken., where school officials -- after receiving complaints from some in their community -- removed the speech by Linus at the pivotal moment in an elementary school production of "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Click here for the previous GetReligion post focusing on the Lexington Herald-Leader coverage of this Christmas wars showdown.

Here was my main point in my previous post: If Linus could not recite the key lines from the Gospel of St. Luke -- in response to Charlie Brown's anguished cry of "Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?" -- then what was Linus going to say? It appeared, in previous coverage, that no one asked that question.

In the comments on that previous post, several readers tipped us off to what happened. So here is an update from the Herald-Leader, to stay with the same news source used before.

Though Johnson County school officials deleted a Bible passage from a student production of A Charlie Brown Christmas despite protests, several adults in the audience at Thursday’s performance recited the lines normally spoken by the character Linus, a video shows.
The scene at W.R. Castle Elementary School followed a firestorm of controversy in Johnson County this week.

And there is more information later:

Castle Elementary principal Jeff Cochran said in an interview Thursday that as instructed by school officials, no student in the play performed the scene in which Linus recites the passage from the Bible in explaining the meaning of Christmas:
“Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in the manger. And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men.’ ”

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Dear Lexington editors: If Linus doesn't say you know what, then what is he allowed to say?

Dear Lexington editors: If Linus doesn't say you know what, then what is he allowed to say?

OK, close your eyes. You are watching television during the season before Christmas. To be specific, you are watching "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

So Charlie Brown -- I can't imagine calling him either "Charlie" or "Brown," under Associated Press style -- has purchased the sad little Christmas tree and all the other children are mocking him. Even Snoopy is laughing. Then they all exit, stage right.

The lovable loser shouts: "Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?"

At that point, Linus van Pelt steps forward and answers in the affirmative. Then he walks to the center of the stage and, alone in a spotlight, says ...

Says what? 

Millions and millions of Americans know what Linus says in his pivotal speech in the classic television special. The question, in a "Christmas wars" update from The Lexington Herald-Leader, is what does Linus say in the controversial production of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" that is being staged at W.R. Castle Elementary School in Johnson County, Kentucky? Here is the top of this hollow story:

When students perform the play “A Charlie Brown Christmas” at W.R. Castle Elementary School in Johnson County on Thursday, the scene in which the character Linus quotes from the Bible is set to be deleted.

Johnson County Schools Superintendent Thomas Salyer told the Herald-Leader Tuesday that Christmas programs across the district were being reviewed for possible modifications of religious references. That news had led people to protest outside school district offices for a second day. ...

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Crucial religion info still missing in updates on holiday wars at University of Tennessee

Crucial religion info still missing in updates on holiday wars at University of Tennessee

We have some interesting news here in East Tennessee about the University of Tennessee holiday wars. I call them "holiday wars," as opposed to "Christmas wars," because it appears to be very hard to fight Christmas here in the valley framed by the Cumberland and Great Smoky Mountains.

As I mentioned the other day, UT's Office for Diversity and Inclusion posted very specific guidelines on how to make sure that official "holiday" party held on campus did not turn into, as the memo put it, a "Christmas party in disguise." The memo also instructed UT folks to use "non-denominational" holiday cards and said those attending holiday parties "should not play games with religious and cultural themes -- for example, 'Dreidel' or 'Secret Santa.' "

The news is that the memo that ticked off Tennessee Republicans -- the dominant party here in the hills -- is gone. Also, the diversity office's leader, Vice Chancellor Rickey Hall, now has a UT communications officer screening his website. The new memo -- text here -- contains zero instructions about how to edit Christmas out of campus parties. Here is a large chunk of the "new" memo, which apparently is a memo that was used in the past:

Recognizing a wide variety of cultures and beliefs, we should note that people choose to celebrate in different ways and on varying days of the year.
While there are many joyous occasions and special opportunities to gather, employee participation in any celebration should always be voluntary. While it is inevitable that differences will appear in how people celebrate, everyone is encouraged to have an open mind and to approach every situation with sensitivity.

Alas, there are all kinds of facts we still don't know about this drama, almost all of them linked to religion.

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Christmas wars come to University of Tennessee: Hey! Check these crucial facts!

Christmas wars come to University of Tennessee: Hey! Check these crucial facts!

What we have here is a collision between several different kinds of stories that are all hot, right now, in the mainstream press. It's also important to know that this crash is taking place in one of the most intensely religious parts of the United States -- right here in my own stomping grounds of East Tennessee.

First of all, there is the whole "war on Christmas" element of this story, since it centers on a clash between acceptable "holiday parties" and unacceptable "Christmas parties."

Then you have another episode in the current national wave of "trigger warning" controversies on public-university campuses, with the assumption that some forms of speech and symbolism -- take Santa Claus, for example -- are automatically offensive and should be strictly controlled.

However, at the heart of the story is a serious church-state issue linked to the idea of religious believers having "equal access" to space in the tax-dollar-supported public square. Hold that thought.

Oh, right, this story also comes on the heels of a controversy about the University of Tennessee embracing gender-neutral pronouns. Just about the only thing missing from this drama is some hook linked to NASCAR or UT Volunteers football.

So here is where things started off, with a post on the website of the campus Office for Diversity and Inclusion called “Best Practices for Inclusive Holiday Celebrations in the Workplace." It didn't take long -- hello Fox News -- for this to grow into Republican calls for the resignation of UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheeks.

Pretty soon, folks on both sides are calling each other "extremist" and "ridiculous." Here's a sample from the memo that includes the key points:

* Holiday parties and celebrations should celebrate and build upon workplace relationships and team morale with no emphasis on religion or culture. Ensure your holiday party is not a Christmas party in disguise. ...

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