Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Real Christmas Scandal

From the Center for American Progress

For some on the right, this Christmas season is about little more than empty political symbolism. The most important issue for people like Jerry Fallwell is ensuring the greeters at stores like Target and Lands End say "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays." Self-described "religious conservatives" in the House spent their time yesterday introducing a resolution "Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected." Meanwhile, that same group of lawmakers has helped push through $50 billion in cuts for programs that provide vital assistance to the poor, including Medicare and food stamps, and passed over $90 billion in tax cuts, mostly for the wealthy. In the Bible, Christians are cautioned not to do as their leaders do, "for they do not practice what they preach." Following the teachings of Jesus, who condemned the actions of those who put public piety before care for the poor, a group of over 200 religious leaders came to Washington yesterday to protest the House budget, which they called "the real Christmas scandal." The Washington Post reports, "Outside in the frigid cold for several hours, more than 200 demonstrators sang religious and holiday songs, prayed aloud and chanted, 'Stop the cuts.'" In an act of civil disobedience, 114 religious leaders were arrested when they refused to leave the steps of the Cannon House Office Building.

THE BUDGET AS A MORAL DOCUMENT: Jim Wallis, founder of the Christian ministry group Sojourners who was arrested at the protest, noted, "The media seems to think only abortion and gay marriage are religious issues." Wallis pointed out, "Poverty is a moral issue, it's a faith issue, it's a religious issue." Wallis is not alone. Christian religious bodies that have weighed in against budget cuts to programs that serve the poor -- including the Catholic Church, the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ -- represent more than 86 million Americans. It's a small contingent aligned with the radical right that takes a different approach. For example, "groups such as Focus on the Family say it is a matter of priorities," and its priorities are opposing abortion, opposing same-sex marriage, and seating judges who will back its position against those practices. Wallis describes this approach as "trading the lives of poor people for their agenda. They're being, and this is the worst insult, unbiblical."

CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS BY RAISING THE MINIMUM WAGE: For hardworking Americans who earn the minimum wage, "It would take almost their entire December paycheck to afford the more than $700 that the average American spends celebrating Christmas." If Congress adjourns for the holiday without acting it would be "the eighth year in a row that Congress has failed to enact even a small increase in the minimum wage." Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) notes, "By freezing it at an inadequate $5.15 and ignoring the effects of inflation, Congress has essentially given a pay cut to these workers." Hoyer asks, "How can the leadership in Congress leave Washington this week to enjoy a plentiful Christmas and a comfortable New Year knowing that their inaction has guaranteed another tough Christmas for millions of Americans?"

IF THERE IS NO PROBLEM, INVENT IT: While progressives are working to solve real issues, the right is inventing their battles. For example, Jerry Fallwell's Liberty Counsel threatened to sue a Wisconsin elementary school because it planned on singing the lyrics "Cold in the night, No one in sight" to the tune of Silent Night. Fallwell claimed this revision was part of an effort to secularize the Christmas holiday. Actually, the school was just performing a copyrighted play that contains numerous songs about Christmas, including the grand finale, an audience-led group singing of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.” The play has been performed in churches around the country. Fox News gave the Liberty Counsel a platform to issue its threats. Desperate to get out of the media spotlight, the school changed its play, even though the Liberty Counsel's charges had no merit.

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