‘Keep Christ in Christmas’ Banner is Next Target in The ‘War on Christmas’ December 17, 2011

‘Keep Christ in Christmas’ Banner is Next Target in The ‘War on Christmas’

I feel like I have read the same story again and again. I don’t understand what people don’t get about the simple words of the First Amendment. Yet once again, we have an issue of a municipality apparently raising a (literal) banner in support of sectarian values. “Keep Christ in Christmas,” urges the banner. (Are they worried about our spelling skills? Concerned about “Xmas“?)

121211 CHRIST IN CHRISTMASLast week, the Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote a letter to the mayor of Pitman, New Jersey, Mike Batten, to ask that the banner be moved to private property. The response appears to be, “It already is.”

Borough attorney Brian Duffield says that the sign is hung from a bank building on one end and a privately-owned telephone pole on the other. FFRF said that it wrote the letter after hearing from a Pitman resident who saw Pitman firefighters putting the banner up between two city light poles.

Either way, it seems like a juvenile bit of mental gymnastics. Duffield said that the borough can regulate signs and requires permits for that sort of banner, but said that because it’s not on government property there’s nothing else that can be done.

In other words, the city of Pitman is hovering its index finger an inch from our collective nose and saying, “I’m not touching you!”

The banner has a subtitle which reads “Knights of Columbus 6247,” which only makes it worse, not better. This explicitly Catholic organization should not be allowed a monopoly on government property to propagandize. Even worse, it is part of a 5-decade-long nation-wide campaign of such “reminders.” (It’s in the name, people, we get it).

The problem is that the endorsement of religion is certainly implied, and Mayor Batten should do something about it. Though he makes his feelings clear about it, using the age-old argument I wish would go the way of the Dodo: “It’s sad, because the beginning of our town was religious and we have 13 churches. And I’m surprised because a banner has hung there for many years and we’ve never heard complaints before.”

Translation: “All you people who are marginalized and ostracized should stay that way forever! It makes me sad that you’re finally protesting the unfair privilege of my religion!”

Aside from the fact that Christianity actually co-opted other holidays to create Christ-Mass, there’s the very obvious fact that many people don’t include Christ in their holidays at all. These sorts of banners only serve to exclude and marginalize all of those people who either don’t celebrate Christmas or who do but have no need for Jebus in their celebrations.

One local resident had this to say about the issue: “But why should (FFRF) step on the rights of other people? I have my right to celebrate Christmas, just as a Jewish person has their right to celebrate Hanukah. Just as an African-American has the right to celebrate Kwaanza. It’s up to the individual.”

“Rights.” You keep using that word; I don’t think it means what you think it means.

One way or another, the banner needs to come down. My favorite part of this story is FFRF’s alternative proposal: their own banner. The proposed text:

“At this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail. There are not gods, no devils, no angels, nor heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds. Freedom From Religion Foundation.”

Now that’s a reminder.

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  • Ben Porter

    One end connected to a pole I get it but I think this one might be trying to fight something pointless well it should just be on the building so hopefully they will just do it

  • This whole “War on Christmas” campaign annoys me to no end. There is NO war on Christmas! Christians take offense to, “Happy Holidays”, how could anyone ( with a rational mind, that is) take offense to a well-intentioned greeting? It’s nothing more than a “cry-the-victim” game when they don’t get their way. For the past month, I’ve seen the same , “Keep Christ in Christmas” picture circulating Facebook. I suppose they’ve become much to lazy to come up with an original way to bitch. 

  • Rich Wilson

    I wonder if a ‘private’ banner proclaiming “Jesus is a Zombie” would make the finger push that last inch.

  • Anonymous

    I have an almost irresistable urge to put arrowheads on the lines in that banner… I’m guessing that the nerds of the town would appreciate the amusement.

  • Sesoron

    As I wind up saying every year, we’ll keep Christ in Christmas as long as they keep the Germanic pagan goddess Eostre in Easter. Argument from etymology must be applied consistently.

  • Rod Chlebek

    Keep The Spirit In Solstice

  • Christian guest

    Hello all. I am a Christian and I would like respond to some of your concerns and comments. The first amendment was mentioned here which protects not only speech but religion. So if you would like to raise a banner that honors a Germanic pagan goddess, that’s fine. But why is it necessary for censor a Christian banner. My right to believe and speak about my belief should not be censored just as your right to express your beliefs should not be censored. You don’t have to agree with me. Let’s all just respect each other.  

  • Anonymous

    How about “Keep the Sol in Solstice” and “Keep the Saturn in Saturnalia”?  Maybe even “Keep the Y in Yule”.  Followed by a last banner: “Keep the Jewish Zombie On A Stick Off Public Property And Out Of the Public Purse.”

    BTW, assuming the FFRF can get two private properties that will hold the ends of the banner, they should also request city-paid firefighters to put it up, at the same cost they charged the Knights of Columbus (which was, most likely, gratis).

  • APasserBy

    As a “law student in Chicago” one thing should be painfully
    obvious to you about the concept of constitutionality and the progress of law
    in general—you can’t just read the first amendment and know what it means. The
    only legally significant meaning behind the text of the first amendment is that
    which the Supreme Court gives it. For better, or worse, this is the nature of
    law in this country.

    Interestingly, the Supreme Court cases on this subject have
    not held that all displays of sectarian values on public land are
    impermissible. Some displays have been approved, and each time the Supreme
    Court references the same theme—however you feel about the religious history of
    this country, it has clearly left sectarian messages in the public arena and
    those messages do not inherently violated the first amendment.

    Religious messages and symbolism exist in public displays
    and even in the interior of the Supreme Court itself. That much is not likely
    to change. How can this duality be, someone may ask—law has always been the
    process of balancing conflicting desires between peoples, and in that balancing
    act, “mental gymnastics”, as you put it, has a strong role. As you may have
    learned in your torts class, hovering an index finger an inch from a face is
    not the same as touching a face. You may think such an approach to resolving
    legal questions smacks too much of formalism, but whether that is the legal
    approach by which the constitutionality of religious displays has been
    determined is not in dispute.

    Through your half policy and half high-school debate essay you
    have contributed nothing in the greater societal discussion on the
    permissibility of religious displays. All you’ve done is express your outrage
    and over your incredibly over-simplified stance with the blind confidence that partisanship combined ignorance
    often gives.

  • Apparently the banner is on private property. What’s the problem? See, I would call and complain that the banner is offensive, but it’s their right to buy a banner and post it on private property. Are we going to pick our battles carefully, or not?

  • Rich Wilson

    My right to believe and speak about my belief should not be censored just as your right to express your beliefs should not be censored. 

    Very true.  But we’re talking about the city, not you or me.  Best the city stay out of expressing beliefs, and if it must, then express all beliefs.  Unfortunately, some people get offended when other people express differing beliefs, or lack of beliefs.

  • Rich Wilson

    I kinda like “Keep the Stop in Solstice”, but it is a bit obscure.

  • Rich Wilson

    You say that like there’s something wrong with expressing outrage or opinion.  My opinion is that that banner crosses the line from ‘ceremonial deism’ into ‘religion’.  Not that my opinion counts, but I’d love to see a Judge’s opinion.  And my opinion is that although the ends might be mounted on private property, its position over the public road is something the town has a legal interest in.  You can’t tell me that any other banner (I intentionally pushed the envelope with “Jesus was a Zombie”, feel free to push it further) would not be regulated.  Add to that that city employees put it up, and in my opinion you actually have a gloved hand slapping a face.  And you know as well as I do that the glove doesn’t matter.

    If you really want to add to the discussion, as a student of law, why don’t you give us your argument as to why this is ceremonial deism, or why the city has no legal authority to regulate the sign.  Or anything else that would make a judge rule in favor of the defense.

  • questioner

    To me this just looks like a typical atheist vs. christian fencing match.  Obviously, this whole legal issue is just a vehicle that the author is using to push atheistic agenda. And  those like her do not really care about what is “fair” or even legal; they simply care about converting everyone to their belief system.  Down with the mystical, the divine, the gods, the God, the supernatural, and everything else that you can’t quantify and analyze with your limited scientific tools.  

    I have one question:  If atheists are so smart and clear-minded about the universe they live in, then why don’t spend more time developing a cure for mortality instead of arguing with those who posit beliefs in supernatural phenomena?  Do atheists not understand the space-time continuum–and their position in it?  If I believed there was nothing, I wouldn’t be wasting my time on a blog, knee-deep in petty arguments about banners over streets.  I’d be shaping my future with medicine and technology, desperately grasping for a chance at immortality.  

  • Rich Wilson

    desperately grasping for a chance at immortality

    I think immortality is a selfish concept.  I plan to die to make room for my descendants.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Off-topic; you should blog this: First Hindu chaplain in US military

  • edit: Comment meant for Christian guest.

  • Christian guest, your respectful and egalitarian tone is refreshing. As
    Rich Wilson stated, it’s about who is expressing a preference or
    promotion of a religious view. Individuals are completely free to
    endorse, promote, and celebrate their religious beliefs, but they are
    not free to use the implied or actual clout or credibility of the
    government to augment their statement, and they are not free to allocate
    public funds, property or personnel which are paid for by
    all tax payers in order to express their personal
    religious views. Otherwise, citizens would be forced to pay for the
    promotion and endorsement of a religion that may not be their own.

    Kids can pray on their own or in private groups in public schools, but
    public schools cannot lead them in prayer. People can put up religious
    displays on their own private property, using their own money, but not
    on public owned property or with public funding, unless the government
    goes to great pains to provide the same favors to all views.

    Even if no actual public funds are used, the implied endorsement by the
    government is improper, and sends the message to all citizens that if
    they are not in line with the religion being endorsed, they are not
    going to be treated as equals by their government.

    Even if the banner in question is attached to consenting private
    property at both ends, it hangs across a public street, and people must
    drive and walk under it.  The implication is very strong of a civic
    endorsement of a specific religion and a specific way to celebrate
    Christmas.  If the banner was draped across the front of the private
    building, I would have no objection to it at all.

    Keeping government and religion clean of each other, both materially and
    in implication protects all our freedom.

  • questioner

    Wilson, how can you use the term “selfish”  if there is no higher power, and therefore, no moral absolutes? Furthermore, why do you care about your descendants?  If there is nothing, then ultimately, you are nothing and they are nothing.  

    I will give you props for sounding altruistic and self-righteous.  I’m sure a lot of silly people will be impressed.  

    Also, I don’t think you value your own intellect very much.  Maybe your only and greatest potential really is to just become a compost pile. I guess I never thought about it that way. So, if that’s the case, your plan is best: Just fade away and make way for the stronger minds, the ones who will usher in the next phase of human evolution.  

  • Christian guest

    Rich and Richard, thank you for your comments. While I could separate this issue out as a federal versus states rights versus community rights issue, I won’t because I believe that dialog would cloud the issue here. I very much understand your position and respect your right to believe as you do. I hesistated offering my initial post because I am a Christian and I am visiting an atheist website. 🙂 The reason I did post, though, was because I do believe it is time we cut through the rhetoric (from all sides) and open an honest and respectful dialog. Thanks again.   

  • Coyotenose

    Please feel free to use Google to discover all the ways in which the “Atheists believe in nothing” and “Atheists have no morals” arguments have been debunked since well before you were born.

    The arrogance, contempt and shallow thinking that you’re displaying yet projecting onto others is astounding.

  • Coyotenose

    It isn’t on private property, though. It’s held up at each end by private property. It’s strung across a public street.

  • questioner, your first paragraph is nothing but an ad hominem blanket dismissal of the argument for separation of church and state, based only on your uninformed characterization of the motives of atheists in general. 

    However, your second paragraph holds an information-seeking question that merits a response, despite it being encrusted with more uninformed assumptions.

    You live in a time when your life expectancy is double what it was just a few decades ago, and that is thanks to science, not religion. The food in your belly, the medicine in your veins, the home in which you live, the technology you’re using right now to express your opinion were all made possible and made better by science, not religion. Many of the scientists who have devoted their lives to doing this for you are guess what, …atheists.

    Arguing about banners over streets and other improper incursions of religion into government is not a waste of time. It’s part of a constant struggle to keep religion from turning us backward into the time before science did all those nice things for you.

  • Anonymous

    Are atheists suddenly a violet population? “I hesitated offering my initial post because I am a Christian and I am visiting an atheist website.”
    It’s not like we’re going to burn you at a stake or something. Good grief.

    In any case, feel free to refer me to a case involving “community rights.” I’ve never heard this term before. It seems to be some veiled attempt to say, “The community has a right to say what they want display and if you atheists don’t like it, live somewhere else.”

  • Thomas Farrell

    I’m sorry, there is no room for christ in December 25, Saturnalia is already full of Saturn.

  • Thomas Farrell

     It should probably just say “there is no god,” and see how long the city government wants to facilitate private banners over public streets afterward.

  • Christian guest, I can understand your hesitation to comment on an atheist site, but you are welcome to do so, especially in the positive and constructive spirit that you show. In my opinion, the best purpose of this kind of dialogue is not to reach agreement, but to reach mutual and respectful understanding. 

  • Thomas Farrell

    Go ahead and put up a banner like that, it’s well within your rights to do so. But not over a public street, using taxpayer-paid government workers to help you do so.  You should put it up on private property, over private property, and it should be done by privately paid-for workers or volunteers.

  • We have one of those up in our town from the Knights of Columbus, but I’m in Canada so no formal separation of C/S, and it’s private buildings.

  • Christian guest

    When I was talking about community rights, I was referring to home rule. Washington, D.C. for example is not a state but has been given home rule by Congress so they can govern themselves. Just as a state has certain rights, there have been municpalities that have been granted rights by states. And let me assure you there was no veiled attempt to do say anything. True transparency is my goal.

    As for my comment about this being an atheist website, there are sites where Christians will get flamed simply for identifying themselves as a Christian. Similarly, there are countless sites out there that would provoke a similar reaction were an atheist to post on it. I have to admit, the title of this website is why I felt free to post. I’m a friendly Christian and I look forward to talking with friendly atheists. 🙂 

  • questioner

    Thank you, Richard, for subbing-in for Wilson.  From your words I can tell that your mind is sharper than his, and I appreciate that.  First, I don’t think I mischaracterized atheistic agenda at all.  From what I’ve seen, you and most of your atheist pals find just about any excuse to inject so-called reason into any situation that you deem fit. In your last paragraph, you admit as much: “It’s part of a constant struggle to keep religion from turning us backward into the time before science did all those nice things for you [Questioner].”  A constant struggle?  Sounds a lot like what I was talking about in my first paragraph.

    So now that we’ve made it clear that you are definitely mission-oriented, let’s talk about the strange way you paint me as ignorant, anti-science, and religious in your wildly assumptive second paragraph.  I embrace science, and I am fully aware that many scientists are atheists.  I am also aware that many are Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Agnostic, etc.  I am also very happy and amazed that science has progressed this far, and I look forward to seeing and, possibly, contributing to scientific advances in the future.  

    As for my second paragraph and my characterization of atheists, I did not mean “all atheists everywhere all the time”; I know there is a difference between those who do pursue immortality through science and those who think that quest is a selfish pursuit (Wilson’s breed).  I, of course, was describing and attacking the latter.  If you had followed more closely, you would have grasped that nuance and not purposefully misinterpreted my statements just so could launch into your own tangent tirade about science and the food in my belly.  

    If you are an atheist and you believe science can save you and you are actively taking part in that quest, I applaud you.  It’s the most logical thing you can do with an illogical worldview.  

  • questioner

    Using Google to fight our battles, are we? Tsk tsk. 

  • Anonymous

    Like others have stated, it’s a matter of government in effect endorsing a given belief, or belief over nonbelief, that’s the problem. You should be absolutely free to express your religious beliefs (as long as no criminal activity is involved) as a private citizen, or as a part of a privately funded group.

    Forgive me if I am pushing onto you a belief or assumption you may not hold, but I find that in these matters the religious often have a misunderstanding about our intentions. When we ask for an absence of religious displays on public land or with public funds, we do not mean by this that the official stance of the government should be nonbelief. The lack of religious symbols in, say, City Hall is no more a promotion of atheism as the lack of religious symbols in McDonalds makes that chain an atheist enterprise. It’s really a matter of being practical.

    There are two ways for governments to obey the Constitution in this regard. Either they lack any religious (or explicitly atheist) displays, or they must try to include all of them. The second option, though it can lead to very diverse displays, tends to be more costly, is rife with conflict over who gets representation and who doesn’t, and generally is a huge headache for all involved. It’s much simpler if governments just stay out of the religion business altogether and let the faithful deal with faith. Cheers, and thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  • Christian guest

    Thomas, I would agree with your statement about using taxpayer-paid government workers, but there are a few unknowns here. First, does the community perform similar services for other organizations without receiving payment? If so, then that argument would be invalid. Or, if the services were paid for, then the argument would also be invalid. As for the over public street argument, I’m not quite tracking with that one. How far above the street would that policy apply? Could an airplane not fly a banner anywhere over public land?

    Having said all that, I understand what you’re saying and I would have to know more about this particular situation in order to make a reasonable argument one way or another.

  • Martha

    Though the history is rather peculiar, the law is well settled that the first amendment does apply to the state and local governments.

    For example:

      Everson v. Board of Education, where the high court ruled that the Establishment Clause applied not only to the federal government but also to state and local governments. The court also declared that the Establishment Clause erected a “wall of separation between church and state,” 

  • Rich Wilson

    Perhaps you should get to know a few atheists before you jump to the conclusion that we are nihilists.  Stick around, you might learn something.  Here, I’ll give you a start on how atheists view their children

    (the regulars can skip, I’ve posted it before and recently)

  • Your using a disingenuous compliment to me in order to insult Rich Wilson, and your general snide tone makes it clear that your “agenda” here is that of any common troll, to degrade the dialogue, to distract it from the original topic, and to turn it to revolve around you.  I’ll not feed your need. Please go make yourself a nuisance at some other blog.

  • Gordon Duffy

    this isnt a battle

    you dont battle trolls

  • Martha

    Well that was a patronizing response!  The banner is an in your face pronouncement about Christ and clearly is a message that Christmas belongs to Christians.  What is and is not allowed in Christmas displays endorsed by government is open to debate, but in general the rule is that the display should not give the impression that government is endorsing a particular religion.  This sign is an endorsement of Christianity to the exclusion of other beliefs or non-belief.   It is not a message of tolerance and diversity, as is allowed by the Supreme Court, but one of exclusion and intolerance.   

    I suggest reading the discussion of the jurisprudence on the issue at: http://pewforum.org/Church-State-Law/The-Christmas-Wars-Holiday-Displays-and-the-Federal-Courts.aspx

  • Rich Wilson

    Gee, I never new I was a ‘breed’, but I seem to be less sharp than ‘Wade’s breed’ 🙂

    You know, ‘imorrtal’ is a really long time.  Like, forever.  Second law of thermodynamics says entropy will prevail.  Unless Isaac Asimov’s Last Question has an answer of course, in which case it doesn’t matter.

    But assuming no Deus comes out of the Machina, we have limited resources in this universe.  A lot, but not infinite.   So at some long distant point in time, we’ll run out of room for new people.  And we’ll get bored.

  • questioner

    I’ve made a terrible mistake. I was wrong in my first assessment: Wilson is the brighter of the two.   At least he continues his arguments, unlike Richard, who simply gives up, attacks my character and tone, and refuses to participate in an argument in which he has clearly been bested.  I’ll take your resignation with smile, and a smug sense of self-satisfaction that I made an old man cry in the corner.
    One parting thought, though, Richard the Cowardly LionHeart: If I’m just a “common troll”, why did you interact with me in the first place?  

    P.S. My compliment to you was not disingenuous.  I earnestly enjoyed your diction and assumed that you had good arguments to back it up.  But now I see that you were all style (sort of) and no substance.  A pity.

  • questioner

    You have a point, Wilson.  Give credit where credit is due.  However, I’d rather be bored for a billion years contemplating all of life’s complexities than sitting around waiting to die.  Who knows what mysteries we could uncover in that seemingly endless expanse of time?  Perhaps, we could discover some new concept that entirely changes everything we now think to be true about the universe.  Don’t limit yourself.  And don’t limit humankind.  No one knows what we’re capable of.  And even if we didn’t discover a cure for entropy, we could at least have a one hell of a long  party.

  • Rich Wilson

    I’d say Richard is has the sharper mind since he came to the obvious conclusion sooner.  I’ll chalk it up to having a cold, and Richard and I can have a sharp-mind rematch another day.

    Enjoy your smile and smug sense of self-satisfaction.  I’m going to make a cup of tea and read my son a book.

    Have a nice day!

  • questioner

    You evidently do “battle trolls” because you just posted a negative comment directed at someone you think is one.

    Think harder, Duffy.

  • questioner

    I like how you threw in that bit about your son.  It really makes people see you as caring.  But, instead of reading him a  book, you should tell him that life is pointless and that he will join his daddy in the compost pile.  Tell him your views.  Be a good dad and pass down your wisdom.  

    Oh, and give Richard a kiss for me.  Cheers!  

    Two atheists down.  Who’s next?  The alleged troll is hungry for . . . hmmm, what’s that?  Oh yes, a worthy opponent. 

  • Anonymous

    In the future, it would be much appreciated if you identified fully as a troll, maybe even included it the name, so generous and helpful guys like Rich and Richard don’t have to bother trying to explain things to someone who has absolutely no interest in learning. There are theists with a genuine wish for dialog and mutual understanding who are much more deserving of attention.

  • Graham Martin-Royle

    I agree, let’s keep christ in christmas. Let’s also keep Thor in Thursday, Saturn in Saturday,  Woden in Wednesday,  the Moon in Monday etc.

  • questioner

    Good try, Claudia, but you are not the atheist I seek.  

    The atheist I seek is someone who knows the issues inside and out, and can talk logically about philosophy, theology, science, cosmology, and all the other pertinent disciplines.  So far, the only thing I’ve encountered on here are “troll experts”.  

    Will the real atheist please stand up?

  • alphabetsoupofsomething

    If I could somehow hover over the ground, I could hover in someone’s backyard or over their house and they couldn’t kick me out, ’cause I’m not on their private property! Since hovering is not possible, perhaps I will find a very bendy tree to lean into their yard and smile in their angry faces telling them, ‘Well, I’m not on your private property!’ Oh? It doesn’t work in reverse?

  • Joe

    Very well stated position, more may be accomplished if others sharing in your beliefs shared in your tone. I, however, am a Knight of Columbus who has just finished placing many signs in support of the Keep Christ In Christmas campaign in my local community- which is hours away from Pitman, NJ. I anticipate the attention to this matter igniting a vigorous, nationwide campaign to build on our progam.

  • Rich Wilson

    I do think there’s a basic failure to communicate.  I can’t count how many times I’ve met people online and in person who firmly believe that the AU/ACLU/Seculars all want to banish any publicly visible display of religion.

    Not so.
    You can have a “Keep Christ in Christmas” on your front lawn.
    You can pray before you snack and lunch in school.
    You can wish your customers “Merry Christmas!” (unless your employer says otherwise, in which case take it up with your employer, AU/ACLU has nothing to do with it)
    You ‘Tebow’ on the sidewalk (as long as you don’t obstruct other pedestrians).I think many Christian displays on private property would be fantastic, as it might highlight that that’s NOT the issue.

  • Heidi


  • alphabetsoupofsomething

    Don’t know much about helicopters; how close could you get?

  • I want you to think long and hard about what would happen if nobody ever died. What kind of world would we live in? There would be virtually no food or fresh water, no space, we’d probably make entire species go extinct. And to be honest, life forever would be horribly boring…

  • Anonymous

    “jewish zombie on a stick” made me spit coffee on my monitor. heh. 

  • Anonymous

    How exactly is a banner OVER a public street ON private property?  I think lots of other groups need to get in on this.  Hey, how about companies who want some low cost advertising?  At least a banner advertising for some retail store would be promoting the true reason for the season!

    Seems to me this town has just declared that the space above city streets is free and open to all!  So, I call on everyone to occupy that space!

  • I apologize for my comment before i couldnt see the picture on my phone. that is out of place. and illegal.

  • Anonymous

    oooh…how about an army of toy helicopters with banners hovering over the mayor’s lawn?  I mean, the banners would be attached to private property after all.

  • Anonymous

    Jebus…who opened the troll gate tonight and let in a bunch of nasty little trolls! 

  • Hi Joe, your civil and respectful tone is also appreciated.

    I don’t mind at all if this controversy promotes your campaign, as long as you and your fellow campaigners do not try to use either the material assets of local, state or federal governments to support it, or try to use the influence, clout, credibility, gravitas, or any other kind of implied approval or endorsement of those governments.  You can put your signs up all over town, all over the country on private property and with privately-funded labor, no problem. If you do not enlist the implied endorsement of the local city by making people walk or drive underneath your signs on public roads, then not only will I not complain, I’ll support your right to display your signs.

    Please be assured that by explaining this basic concept of equality and fairness, I’m not implying that you do not understand it.  I just hope that you can explain this idea to your fellows in your movement. It is dismaying to see how many Americans just can’t grasp the idea of equal freedom, protection, and responsibility for all.

    I frequently hear them crying “The majority rules!” to justify continuing what they think is their privilege. No, the Constitution rules, and it is carefully designed to protect minorities of all kinds from the tyranny of the majority. If the majority always ruled, this country would be a nightmare. Towns could and would vote any kind of minority they disliked out of town, whether they were religious or racial minorities, or any other category that is less than 50%. The majority rules only in very carefully controlled conditions, such as an election.

    I wish you well in your campaign, especially if you use it as an opportunity to also promote true freedom of religion rather than only the freedom of “true” religion.

  • Heather, The Easily Annoyed

    One year some enterprising Christian group put similar signs up on my university campus.

    So several of us godless types responded with “Let’s put the X back in Xmas” signs.

    It was fun.

  • APasserBy

    Oh, Martha. Thank for your accurate characterization of my tone–I intended my response to be patronizing. A mistake, probably, but a legal argument is a legal argument, and to paint this situation as a cut and dry case of an unconstitutional religious display is at the very least inaccurate, and at the very most–embarrassing for a law student. I have read much of the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence in this area–that is why I choose to respond at all. Clearly you want to get into the substance of the law, and have suggested that I do as well. When I first posted, I only intended to remedy what I saw as a woefully inaccurate perception of how law develops, but I don’t mind discussing the specifics here. 

    The general rule is that a display which suggests to the hypothetical “reasonable observer” that the government is endorsing one religion to the exclusion of others violates the first amendment. Agreed. If you have reviewed the law in this area, Martha, then you are aware that things get a bit dicey from here on out. How do we define the “reasonable observer”? How much knowledge of the factual circumstances surrounding a religious display’s erection does the “reasonable observer” have? Many, if not most, of the Supreme Court and Circuit Court cases give the reasonable observer quite a bit of knowledge. For instance, almost certainly, the reasonable observer here would know that the sign was placed and sponsored by the Knights of Columbus. That would be likely true even if the sign didn’t explicitly say so, since we can impute to the viewer more knowledge than just what is available while one walks by. Here, however, the sign explicitly says who sponsors it. Therefore, this is likely a case in which the result of conducting the legally significant test suggests that this display is permissible, since we know that it is the Knights of Columbus who are communicating to you through the sign. It’s never been held–and i do mean never–that a religious display on government land is always impermissible, and tests like the “reasonable observer” test and their factually intensive nature are the reason why. 

    You say that is the government endorsing religion. I say this is community involvement, like renting out the rec center. I think a judge is more likely to side with me than you, but here is the main reason, again, that I wanted to post here at all–we don’t know what a judge will do, contrary to the author’s protestations. That’s why I said she contributed nothing, because other than a bit of rhetoric and a lot of seething hate, nothing of substance was said. If you want to express an opinion, go for it, but don’t make the seriously irresponsible mistake of acting as though you are  communicating legal conclusions when your would-be wisdom is actually unsubstantiated and just demonstrates that any legal training you’ve received gave you no leg up on making sense of the real world than which you would have had as another uninformed member of the populace.

  • Dan W

    The “it’s a tradition” argument for these sorts of sectarian banners is one of the dumbest ones I’ve seen. It always makes me think of this image- http://www.despair.com/tradition.html

  • Ndonnan

    why shouldnt the city celebrate christmas,and no that dosent mean they need to acknowledge every other belife in the world either.it really is only an offence to athiests,the others really dont care.christmas is about christ, not end of year holidays,go to china or india,its work as usual,no 4 week break.

  • Christian guest

    Rich, I saw this comment and it intrigued me. This particular post string probably isn’t the appropriate place for a topic shift, but some time I would be interested in having a discussion about this. I can see from a mathematical/logical perspective support for an absolutist or nihilist viewpoint, I can’t see that relativism is mathematically supportable. But that discussion is for another time.

  • And there’s always that point that “Holidays” is literally “Holy-days”, and we shouldn’t even be claiming that sentiment as atheists.

    Though I’m sure I don’t know a better alternative.

  • Rich Wilson

    My account here is linked to facebook.  Feel free to send me a message if you want.  Or there’s the Friendly Atheist forums.  I don’t go there much, but plenty of others do.  Or I’m sure the topic will come up on a post of its own 🙂

  • Rich Wilson

    really is only an offence to athiests,the others really dont care

    Jews care.  Jehovah’s Witnesses care.  Christian members of American’s United care.  I think the Danbury Baptists probably cared.

  • If the materials were truly on private property, and were sponsored by a private organization, then any government activity with regards to the signs being hung was incedental, and I have a hard time going all the way to first amendment violation on the part of the city.  I question, having read the facts you presented, whether the city’s actions rise all the way to excessive government entanglement.  Would you really feel better if the KofC had gotten a permit from the city?  I don’t know that the city could have reasonably denied the permit simply because the word “christ” appears on the sign.

  • Pitman-ite

    As a local resident, the Borough did not pay for any part of our banner being displayed.  The banner was provided by the Knights of Columbus.  The banner was put in place by our local all volunteer fire department.
    Pitman started as a Christian summer retreat and is our heritage.  We have 13 churches.  Our being a Christian community isn’t any secret or surprise.   If someone is so opposed to Christianity they should not have moved into this community.  Unless you built your own home here, most likely a Christian lived and prayed in your house.    
    Christ-mas is Christ birth.  No one is asking you to celebrate our Holy-day.  I only ask that you not prevent me from celebrating the reason for the season.  Celebrate whatever you choose.  If I don’t agree with it then I simply and quietly won’t celebrate it with you.   

  • Pitman-ite

    There are many other banners that are placed in that same spot.  They are all non-profit organizations that provide their own banner.  The all-volunteer fire companies use their ladder trucks to erect and remove each one of them.  Chicken barbecues, Crop walk …  No one is forced to buy barbecued chicken or walk to help prevent hunger, etc. 
    Placing a banner in town that reads “Keep Christ in Christmas” does not force anyone to celebrate Christmas or attend church.  Nor does it force you to buy Christmas gifts. 
    Until recently, many people did not even know that this banner was there.  Personally, I hope that it continues to be placed in the center of town every year.  As for me, I’ve got eternal reservations in the non-smoking section.
    Freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion.  It means that each of us is free to worship as we choose. 
    FYI: Our mayor and council members are also non-paid volunteers.   

  • Rich Wilson

    Now THAT is useful information.  If other groups really can have their own banner put up then I wouldn’t have a problem with it.

    One minor edit though: 
    Freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion.  It means that each of us is free to worship or not as we choose.

  • Pitman-ite

    Pitman’s firefighters are all non-paid volunteers.  Each of the banners that are hung in that same place are erected and removed by these volunteers gratis.  Our community financially donates to these fire companies to purchase and maintain their trucks and equiptment.  
    There wasn’t any borough funding involved. 

  • Marie

    Season’s Greetings?   I’m pretty sure we’re allowed to have both seasons and greetings.

  • Eskomo

    Zero tax dollars go the fire company? Only funded by donations? That sounds unique. 

  • Rich Wilson

    Pitman started as a Christian summer retreat and is our heritage.  We have 13 churches.  Our being a Christian community isn’t any secret or surprise.   If someone is so opposed to Christianity they should not have moved into this community.

    That part isn’t legally relevant however.  The Constitution applies to all US citizens, no matter what city they decide to live in.

    The test for me is what the response would be if a Muslim organization wanted to put up a Ramadan banner proclaiming something like “No God but Allah”.

  • Sulris Campbell

    while i am an athiest i agree with joe.  if there was no public funding and the has not rejected other displays to be put up in the same manner the city has done nothing wrong and it is perfectly fine for this group to place their banner in that way.

    i think think it implies anything.  if the pole is private and the bank is private, more power to them.  they should be able to try and get their message out just like us.

  • -__________-

  • Ndonnan

    well said

  • Ndonnan

    there would be lots in muslim countrys,and im sure they wouldnt be listening to this wineing

  • Rich Wilson

    You’re absolutely right.  One of the big advantages that theocracies have over constitutional democracies is that they have a lot less ‘wineing’.

  • PhilQuinto

    you people are insane KEEP CHRIST IN CHRISTMAS!!
    Merry Christmas

  • Remember Christmas’ pagan routes and above all keep Eoster in Easter.

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