Canceling Christmas

Christmas was canceled in Alabama this past holiday season, so to speak. Many schools scrapped traditional Christmas pageants or scoured out all religious elements. In Bon Secour the school’s annual play was allowed only after the script had been edited to balance Christmas themes (a manger scene) with secular themes. Why did Alabama schools take the "holy" out of the "holidays?" They were intimidated by a federal judge’s ruling that imposed draconian restrictions on religious liberty. A few weeks ago, Judge Ira DeMent issued a permanent injunction forbidding religious activities in or around public schools: reading the Bible devotionally, praying out loud, even passing out announcements of religious events. What makes this so remarkable is that prior restraining orders are rare in First Amendment cases. They’re generally reserved for clearly harmful behavior, such as ordering abusive husbands to stay away from their wives. It would seem that praying in school has now been placed on the same level as beating your wife. In addition, Judge DeMent ordered re-education workshops for teachers. He urged teachers and students to report violations of the guidelines. Most chilling of all, the judge set up paid "monitors" with permission to break into any classroom or school activity to nail students sneaking in a prayer or cracking open a Bible. Outraged citizens dubbed the monitors "prayer police." A British reporter shuddered to think the American government would employ stooges "paid to spy, inform, and enforce the ban on religion like so many Red Guards in China’s Cultural Revolution." Precisely. Just when Americans are protesting human rights abuses in China, Judge DeMent is creating oppressive structures similar to those imposed on religious believers in China and other communist nations. How did American reach the point where judicial despots would attempt to suppress the first and most important freedom? The answer is a growing tendency in the courts to treat religion as threatening, even dangerous. The American Founders regarded religion as a positive good—something so foundational that they placed it first in the Bill of Rights. But today we’re seeing an almost complete reversal. In Lee v. Weisman, the Supreme Court implied that adolescents must be protected from even the blandest, To-Whom-It-May-Concern graduation prayer. In Romer v. Evans, the justices described religious-based morality as "animosity"—an ugly prejudice. In Lynch v. Donnelly, a nativity display was ruled acceptable only because the justices deemed it not really religious but only an expression of seasonal cheer. Clearly, religion is no longer regarded as a good thing deserving of special protection. This past summer, the Court struck down the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which was passed almost unanimously by Congress in 1993. The ruling signaled to states and municipalities that they would no longer be required to accommodate religious expression. The First Amendment has been gutted. Christians must help reverse this dangerous trend by urging Congress to pass a new version of RFRA, rewritten to overcome the Court’s constitutional objections. Five years ago I warned in a speech that our country could be on the road to tyranny. At that time, some thought my remarks extreme. But if Judge DeMent’s injunction marks the direction the courts are moving—and if Congress does not curb them—my words may prove tragically prophetic. And the "prayer police" may well be headed your way next.


Chuck Colson


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