U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Co) has sponsored a new House resolution that “say[s] that those who want to celebrate Christmas have that right…” That’s right, Lamborn wants to fight the nonexistent “war on Christmas” by protecting a right that is in absolutely no jeopardy. I intended to do a succinct legal analysis of this resolution but it is so feebly written, badly reasoned, and founded on such poorly chosen legal authority that I’m not sure where to begin.
So before we take a closer look at the proposed resolution, let’s examine the man behind it. (These are simply facts, no ad hominem attack is being mounted.) According to his website, Lamborn “believes that the . . . purpose of the Constitution and First Amendment was not to defend government from religion, but rather to defend religion from interference by government.” Lamborn has a history of sponsoring bills to protect rights already protected. He “cosponsored the Public Prayer Protection Act of 2007 and will continue efforts to protect our religious freedom . . .” Yet Lamborn is probably best known for calling President Barack Obama a “tar baby,” a controversial term that has a derogatory connotation towards African-Americans. Rounding out his resume are Lamborn’s extracurricular activities, which include sponsoring a private, after-hours tour of the U.S. Capitol for the dishonest, disreputable, and deceitful organization established by David Barton, Wallbuilders.
A closer study of Lambert’s proposal, H.Res. 489, reveals redundancies, inconsistencies and little substance. Let’s start with the fact that the resolution, which is only 115 words long, manages to violate the First Amendment yet cite it as legal authority.
“Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected for use by those who celebrate Christmas.
Whereas Christmas is a national holiday celebrated on December 25; and
Whereas the Framers intended that the First Amendment of the Constitution, in prohibiting the establishment of religion, would not prohibit any mention of religion or reference to God in civic dialog: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That the House of Representatives—
(1) recognizes the importance of the symbols and traditions of Christmas;
(2) strongly disapproves of attempts to ban references to Christmas; and
(3) expresses support for the use of these symbols and traditions by those who celebrate Christmas.”
Let’s take a closer look at the poorly stated and euphemistic first clause, “symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected for use by those who celebrate Christmas.” In plain English the euphemism “those who celebrate Christmas” obviously means Christians. So a more accurate reading of the resolution is, “symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected for use by Christians.” The clause’s meaning is still unclear. Is Lamborn trying to protect the use of the symbols by only Christians or is he trying to say that Christians should do the protecting?
In either case, Lamborn runs afoul of the very legal authority he claims to found this law on: The First Amendment. If Lamborn wants to limit the use of Christmas symbols to Christians (did he see our natural nativity display?) then he is violating the Establishment, Free Speech, and Free Exercise clauses. If Lamborn wishes for Christians to protect the symbols, he is violating his own warped reading of an Establishment Clause that only “defend[s] religion from interference by government,” by having the government direct a particular religious group to a particular action. Tsk, tsk. To sum up, the “sense” Lamborn wishes the House to “express” is nonsensical and would, were it law, violate the same provision of the Constitution it claims to be interpreting and upholding. (This clause, and its constitutional problems, are repeated in number (3) of the resolution.)
Moving on to the rest of this profligate yet terse piece of nonsense we find more flawed legal foundations. Lamborn cites the Establishment Clause (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”) for the proposition that “mention[s] of religion” are not prohibited in the “civic dialog.” This is a curious choice of legal authority given that six words later the First Amendment protects the freedom of speech.
Which brings us nicely to number 2 of the resolution: “disapprov[al] of attempts to ban references to Christmas.” Really? Is there actually a danger of that occurring in this country? Obviously, the government cannot endorse Christianity, but nor could it ban “references to Christmas.” This goes beyond ridiculous. Note: people who are against banning references to Christmas do not necessarily have a problem with banning references to atheism.
Nobody’s right to celebrate Christmas is at risk. If it were, I would be among the first to help you fight to assure it was safe. The only thing that is at risk is the Constitution. Religious displays on government property, prayers in school, and even this asinine resolution are an affront to the Constitution. Mr. Lamborn as an individual is free to celebrate this season however he would like; but the government is not permitted to prefer one religion over another, or religion over nonreligion by, for instance, displaying a Christian nativity on their property to the exclusion of other displays. That’s also in the Constitution.
The theocrats are waging a private war on the Constitution and using this proposal to distract the credulous flock with a fictional “war on Christmas.” All the rights this resolution allegedly protects are already protected by the only legal authority the resolution mentions. This proposal goes beyond redundant — it is a waste of taxpayer time and money. It is pandering claptrap that serves no legitimate purpose.
Andrew Seidel is the newest member of FFRF’s legal team and our first Constitutional Consultant. He joined FFRF in November and absolutely loves his job. He, and all of FFRF, are truly going to miss Hitch.