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Holiday Intimidation: The Grinches vs. the First Amendment

For six years, the Moanalua High School orchestra in Hawaii has provided Christmas for poor African children. They hold a benefit concert that raises $30,000 each year for Mercy Ships, a fantastic Christian relief agency that provides life-saving and life-enhancing surgery to the poor across the globe.

But this year, a local atheist attempted to steal Christmas for both the young musicians and African children by complaining to the state Department of Education. You see, volunteers from Hawaii's New Hope Church worked on sets for the concert, and sold tickets, including, horrifyingly, at their Sunday church services. So of course there MUST be a constitutional violation somewhere, somehow.

Worst of all, the state Department of Education agreed. And so — four days before the concert — the high school was ordered to cancel it. No Christmas concert, no $30,000 for suffering African children. In the words of that famous song, “You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch.”

Of course, the high school was not even close to violating the Constitution. The concert was a school event, not a church event, and it was being put on by high school students and staff. So why do these Grinches get away with canceling Christmas in Hawaii and in other states every year?

Well, as the Hawaii Reporter editorialized, this person “doesn't win in court so much as he gets his way by getting people in government to simply bend to his wishes through bullying and threats.” And as Hawaii radio talk show host Michael Perry notes, “There are all kinds of organizations that would be happy to take [this guy] on and win. But he wins because they quickly capitulate.”

In addition, as the Wall Street Journal's Bill McGurn points out, when it comes to church-state scrimmages, people in power seem unable “to distinguish between upholding religious pluralism and enforcing anti-religion.” Our country, he declares, is “ill-served by a government that reads 'no establishment of religion' as mandating official hostility toward even innocuous religious expressions of its citizenry.”

And McGurn points out that the Grinch who led another holiday fight — this one against nativity displays in Santa Monica — acknowledged that he did so, not because he and his cohorts wanted “an opportunity to express their own views but to ban those they disagreed with from expressing theirs.” Exactly!

When we see bullying tactics being employed during the holidays, we ought to direct the victims to religious rights groups like the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, or the Alliance Defending Freedom. They take on religious hostility cases with great gusto and, I might add, with great success.

We also need to demonstrate Christian love to these Grinches — and no, not by sending them Aunt Eulalie's fruitcake; we should also pray that their hearts — now two sizes too small — will expand to embrace those of different religious faiths, and that they’d stop their bullying ways.

By the way, you'll be happy to learn that — thanks to the Christmas controversy — Mercy Ships is going to receive even more money than usual. New Hope Church invited Christian musicians called the Katinas to perform at their church to benefit Mercy Ships. Those who’d purchased tickets for the original concert could use them to see the Katinas. Plus, the church sold 200 additional tickets—and accepted a $2,000 donation from a non-Christian woman — non-Christian — who gave simply because “this is the right thing to do,” as she put it.

Merry Christmas, Mr. Grinch.

Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.

Publication date: December 20, 2012

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