Commentary: Rep. Morgan's 'War On Christmas' Legislation

Dec 21, 2016

Rep. Patricia Morgan
Credit Ian Donnis / RIPR

In this season of peace and good will to all, now comes RI House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, R-West Warwick, to rip down the mistletoe, knock over the menorah and pour paint thinner in the eggnog.

What else can we take from her ill-advised legislation to "allow" teachers to say Merry Christmas to students and teach them about the history of the various traditions of winter holidays. Talk about a solution looking for a problem.

There is no "war’’ on Christmas. That’s a figment of the fertile imaginations of the far right and such Fox News shills as Bill O’Reilly. Christmas is in no danger of being overlooked or diluted by government action. Liberals, conservatives and those of no discernible religion are in no danger of missing out on this Christian holiday. It is in no danger; it never has been and never will be.

After the shopping frenzy that begins minutes after Halloween pumpkins come down, all major retailers are closed on the holiday celebrating the birth of the Christ child. Tinsel, trees decorated with lights and ornaments and religious displays, including Nativity scenes, are allowed even on government property so long as such display mixes Christian and secular symbols. This was decided long ago by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case involving the famous Pawtucket crèche. One would think the top GOP leader in the RI House would know this.

The churches where we honor Christ’s birth are all tax-exempt. Nothing much is open for business, except for a few Chinese restaurants. That led to Elena Kagan’s famous quip during her Supreme Court confirmation hearings when she was asked what she does on Christmas. "Like many Jews, go to a Chinese restaurant."

Steve Brown, Rhode Island’s intrepid ACLU executive director, says the civil liberties group has never received complaints from Rhode Islanders about Christians being discriminated against during this sacred season. Of Morgan’s measure, he says, "it’s a complete non-issue; there is no basis for it other than to make a splash."

Which is perhaps why Morgan is pushing this, hoping the talk radio babblers pick this up for a rant during a slow news time of the year. It’s based on a law in Texas, a state not known for following the U.S. Constitution when it comes to separation of church and state. And a state with a political culture alien to New England, thankfully.

Of course, this is just another divisive issue to bring up at a holy time of the year, another wedge topic to further cleave an electorate in dire need of healing. Morgan has a few other Republican co-sponsors, but a name that is missing on the sponsor list is Rep. Brian Newberry, R-North Smithfield, a lawyer, practicing Christian worshipper and a lawmaker smart enough to be able to separate serious Statehouse issues from the silly.

If Morgan, a former Republican state chairwoman, wants to do something about a cherished American holiday that is under siege, she ought to look into Thanksgiving. There is a war on Thanksgiving. It is waged by the big box retailers on their low-paid workers, many of them minimum wage toilers. Once again this war pits the have-nots versus the have mores.

Banks, law firms, universities and big non-retail corporations are all closed on Thanksgiving. So white collar families can enjoy this wonderful family holiday. Not so for poorly paid retail workers. They have to jump from the table before the pumpkin pie is served to run to work to sell Christmas gifts to the better-off.

Luckily, because of  legislation pushed years ago by organized labor, Rhode Island bars supermarkets and retailers from opening on Thanksgiving. "We saw the Christmas shopping creep trend and decided let’s have a family day on Thanksgiving," recalls George Nee, president of the RI AFL-CIO.

Morgan should urge GOP lawmakers in other states to follow Rhode Island’s lead. And then be forced to write 100 times in longhand, "There is no war on Christmas."