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Taking the Christ out of Christmas?

The holidays are here and it's time to get back to the War on Christmas. Or is "the holidays?" MSNBC-TV's Joe Scarborough referees a debate about taking Christ out of Christmas with Christopher Hitchens of Vanity Fair and Mat Satver of Liberty University.
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Is there a war against Christmas?  The ACLU and a lot of other people have been trying to take Christ out of Christmas for years.  At this time of year, many people will believe that that's a real concern.  Friday night, in Newport News, Va., 8,000 people are expected to show up for the town's Christmas celebration, except they are calling it that.  They're calling it Hollydazzle.  And instead of lighting the 40-foot Christmas tree, Newport News officials are going to be lighting, get this, the tree of illumination. 

The events are also going to include, of course, Frosty the Snowman, make-your-own-snow globes, and that traditional Christmas fair, Mr. and Mrs. Mouse. 

Many Americans are fed up with public celebrations that are taking Christ out of Christmas, and they believe that their faith is under attack, but is it the proper thing to do? 

Christopher Hitches, a writer for “Vanity Fair” and Mat Staver, president of the Liberty Counsel, which started the Friend of Foe Christmass campaign joined Joe Scarborough, on ‘Scarborough Country’ to discuss this “war on Christmas.” 

To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST,” SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY’: Christopher, I guess whenever these issues come up, my question always is, what is the big deal?  If Newport News wants to have a Christmas tree, or Pensacola, Florida, wants to have a manger in front of city hall, who does that harm? 

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, “VANITY FAIR”:  Who does it harm if they call it tree of illumination? 

I mean, Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without this argument.  And I have to say, I congratulate you on finding a Mr. Sage for a Yuletide touch. 

But he is dead wrong in the main thing he said, which is that this is our how our country was founded.  As he ought to know, the country was founded on a document that specifically separates church from state. 

SCARBOROUGH:  What document is that, Christopher? 

HITCHENS:  That's the United States Constitution. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Separates church and state.  Where does it say that in the Constitution? 

HITCHENS:  Very particularly in its first—very particularly, in its rather brilliantly and beautifully and clearly written First Amendment. 

Now, in Lynchburg as in Washington, D.C., there are large numbers of public buildings, lavishly financed, usually, in fact, invariably, tax exempt, sometimes even government subsidized by the—what do we call it, faith-based program. 

They are called churches.  People can go there if they want to have religious ceremony.  They can put up hoardings on their land, which say it's Jesus' birthday or Christ has risen, if it's Easter, anything like that.  You can't stop them.  They do it all the time, and they are very welcome. 

I would like, however, to be able to go to Union Station and not be told that I am a Christian over the loud speaker all the time, or, indeed, to Wal-Mart or Target or 7/Eleven and not have an incessant one-party state month of permanent Christian music and propaganda.  I think that's annoying and offensive.   I promise only one thing.  I promise you, I would say that if I was a Christian.  I am not.  But if I was one, I would not want it imposed on other people. 

And certainly not in this ugly, vulgar, boring way?

SCARBOROUGH:  It's ugly?  What is ugly and vulgar and boring, Christmas trees? 

HITCHENS:  Don't you find the tinsel and the incessant stuff on the radio and the TV, don't you find it gets you down?  Don't you find it's cheap and tinselly?  I certainly do. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, you know what?

If it's cheap, that cheapness has been a part of American culture for 200 years.  You talk about the separation of church and state. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I want to read you a couple of quotes. 

Here you have, in April 1787, Benjamin Franklin talking to the Constitutional Congress, saying: “I have lived a long time, sir, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this, that God governs in the affairs of man, and, if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, how can a great empire rise without his aid?  The father of our country,” he said, “of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”

I could read you 100 quotes of founding fathers talking about the importance of religion and I could get you quotes, though, from these founding fathers that did talk about Christianity. 

HITCHENS:  George Washington...

SCARBOROUGH:  George Washington was a deist.  Benjamin Franklin, whatever he felt obliged to say in public, was a nonbeliever.

MATHEW STAVER, PRESIDENT, LIBERTY COUNSEL: Joe, this is exactly the reason why we have this problem during Christmas.  There is a war on Christmas. 

Liberty Counsel represents Nathan Sage.  And we are working with him to try to reverse this ridiculous thing in Newport News, Virginia.

In Newport News, Virginia, they celebrate everything.  They have got Santa Clauses.  They have got the poinsettias.  They have the snowmen.  They even have what appears to everyone who looks at this a Christmas tree, a triangle looking tree that is decorated, but, lo and behold, because it has the name Christmas attached to it, even though it's otherwise a secular symbol, they have a bias to censor that out and change it to the tree of celebration.

SCARBOROUGH:  Mat, you are sitting here talking, and other Christians have been complaining about how there's been a war on Christmas for a long time.

But you have got to admit, there has been progress made.  If you look at Macy's, if you look at Lowe's, if you look at what happens, like the city of Boston, if you look at the U.S. Congress they are starting to bring the word Christmas back in these celebrations. 

Now, for me personally, this doesn't really mean a whole lot.  But, at the same time, it bugs me when people are so politically correct that they want to take the word Christ out of Christmas. 

SCARBOROUGH:  So, will you admit that things are improving? 

STAVER:  Oh, no question.  They are improving.

But they are improving because people are speaking up, because they are tired of this onslaught against Christmas.  They are tired of the trend of the ACLU and others that espouse the views like Christopher that simply want to eliminate God and religion from the public square.  And I think it is symbolic of what's happened to take a Christmas tree and rename it to something other than a Christmas tree. 

Now, Boston, I applaud them, because, tonight, they lit not a holiday tree, which they intended to do about a week ago, but a Christmas tree.  And that's what the mayor says it will always be now, as long as he is mayor.  And I applaud him.  I applaud Speaker Dennis Hastert for doing the same thing.

That's why we launched our Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign.  And our Web site at, we have a memo that talks about what the law is.

HITCHENS:  The tree long predates Christmas. 

There's been a festival of light, in fact, and of trees, Yule logs trees—that's where they're all from Scandinavia—since the winter solstice was first thought of, long before any mythical event in the Middle East, a birth that the date of which even the Bible cannot get right and repeatedly gets wrong. 

That’s fine.  People can celebrate it all they like.  It would be impossible to live in this country and not notice that there are lots of Christians who like to celebrate the birthday of the person they believe is their savior.  You cannot possibly escape it.  But we don't want it to enjoy any public preference or subsidy.  And the Constitution says that we don't have to.