News / USA

Dual Tree Lighting Illuminates Annual Holiday Debate

The U.S. Capitol Christmas tree is seen after a lighting ceremony, in Washington, D.C., December 6, 2011.
The U.S. Capitol Christmas tree is seen after a lighting ceremony, in Washington, D.C., December 6, 2011.
Carla Babb

It's the Christmas holiday season in the United States, and with it comes an annual argument: Should local, state and federal governments put up Christmas trees, or even call attention to Christmas, in a country that has no official religion?

It's one of the most recognizable symbols of the season. But in the northeastern state of Rhode Island State House this year, the governor says the seasonal spruce is getting a name change: from Christmas tree to holiday tree.

"Times are changing and that's just the reality. The world's getting smaller. People are moving around. Religions are more accepted in our society and that's just the evolution that's occurring," said Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee.

The decision angers some Americans, and the governor's office has received thousands of calls denouncing the change. A state legislator even decided to hold a Christmas tree lighting in the State House Tuesday at the same time of the governor's holiday tree lighting.

Janice Crouse is a spokeswoman for Concerned Women for America, the country's largest public policy organization for Christian women.

"You know when it comes to Christmas time, the people who talk about inclusion and diversity and all those cliches of the left, they're the first ones to want to shut down Christmas," said Crouse.

Nearly 80 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians and celebrate Christmas to mark the birth of Jesus.

"We celebrate other faiths, we ought to celebrate Christian faith as well. And there ought to be symbols in our public square. It's very much a part of who we are as Americans," said Crouse.

Erika Seamon teaches religion in American public life at Georgetown University. She said the Christmas tree illuminates the debate over separation of church and state - a fundamental concept in American law.

"The importance of this is it's not taking Christmas or taking religion out of American society. It's specifically the concern that this tree and this language is associated with government property and government endorsement," said Seamon.

Christmas is a federal holiday in the United States. The courts have ruled the Christmas tree a secular symbol that represents the season without specific religious meaning. That makes it all right to put up a big tree and decorate it here at the Capitol and at other government properties across the country.

But not everybody sees the Christmas tree as secular.

"All symbols point back to Christ for me, the reason for the season we so often say."

Seamon said the change just might be the governor's way of avoiding trying to dictate the meaning of symbols for individuals.

"One could argue that what the government is trying to do in a multiculturally diverse society is just move to the sidelines and not be involved in religious discussion or symbolism or language in the first place," she said.

As long as there are Christmas trees on public property, the seasonal semantics likely will continue.


You May Like

Multimedia Obama, Modi Break Nuclear Deal Deadlock

Impasse over liability issues had been stalling bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation; deal reached at start of US president's three-day visit to India More

WHO's Late Efforts in Tackling Ebola Highlight Need for Reform

Health experts debate measures to reform agency’s response to global public health emergencies in special one-day session on deadly outbreak More

One Tumultuous Year in Power for CAR's President

As sectarian violence raged across Central African Republic, interim President Catherine Samba-Panza has Herculean task: to end civil war and put country back on right track More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youthi
X
Julie Taboh
January 23, 2015 11:08 PM
Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Video

Video US Marching Bands Grow Into a Show of Their Own

The 2014 Super Bowl halftime show was the most-watched in history - attracting an estimated 115 million viewers. That event featured pop star Bruno Mars. But the halftime show tradition started with marching bands, which still dominate the entertainment at U.S. high school and college American football games. But as Enming Liu reports in this story narrated by Adrianna Zhang, marching bands have grown into a show of their own.
Video

Video Secular, Religious Kurds Face Off in Southeast Turkey

Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast has been rocked by violence between religious and secular Kurds. Dorian Jones reports on the reasons behind the stand-off from the region's main city of Diyarbakir, which suffered the bloodiest fighting.
Video

Video Kenya: Misuse of Antibiotics Leading to Resistance by Immune System

In Kenya, the rise of drug resistant bacteria could reverse the gains made by medical science over diseases that were once treatable. Kenyans could be at risk of fatalities as a result if the power in antibiotics is not preserved. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story from Nairobi.
Video

Video Solar-Powered Plane Getting Ready to Circumnavigate Globe

Pilots of the solar plane that already set records flying without a drop of fuel are close to making their first attempt to fly the craft around the globe. They plan to do it in 25 flying days over a five month period. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video How Experts Decide Ethiopia Has the Best Coffee

Ethiopia’s coffee has been ranked as the best in the world by an international group of coffee connoisseurs. Not surprisingly, coffee is a top export for the country. But at home it is a source of pride. Marthe van der Wolf in Addis Ababa decided to find out what makes the bean and brew so special and how experts make their determinations.
Video

Video Yazidi Refugees at Center of Political Fight Between Turkey, Kurds

The treatment of thousands of Yazidis refugees who fled to Turkey to escape attacks by Islamic State militants has become the center of a dispute between the Turkish government and the country's pro-Kurdish movement. VOA's Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video World’s Richest 1% Forecast to Own More Than Half of Global Wealth

The combined wealth of the world's richest 1 percent will overtake that of the remaining 99 percent at some point in 2016, according to the anti-poverty charity Oxfam. Campaigners are demanding that policymakers take action to address the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid