How ICLU didn't steal ChristmasFran Quigley

Since I took a job at the Indiana Civil Liberties Union about a year ago, I continue to be amazed by the downright un-Christ-like behavior some people pursue in the name of Christianity. It's still a shock to receive a steady stream of "you'll burn in hell" letters, e-mails and calls at the office, often including a vow to maim gays and non-believers, all in the name of the belief system I've been a part of all my life. It's one thing to be mean in the name of Jesus, but brothers and sisters, do you have to be self-pitying on top of it?

It's one thing to be mean in the name of Jesus, but brothers and sisters, do you have to be self-pitying on top of it? Here's part of a message sent to me last week by yet another anonymous correspondent: "I think that Christians in this nation are being persecuted like Christians in other nations around the world."

Huh? The president trumpets his Christianity, while the Congress, the Statehouse and private sector are Christian-dominated. You are free to worship openly with the 160 million other self-identified Christians in this country, a huge majority of the population. Yet you are being persecuted somehow?

I think some victims of real religious persecution in China and Sudan may quarrel with your claim to victimhood.

But at the ICLU, we get this type of message all the time. Lately, there has been an upsurge fueled by a well-organized attempt by extremist groups to crush the First Amendment and religious freedom in this country. Believe it or not, this effort is being coordinated all in the guise of Christmas. (Let it snow intolerance for your Jewish friends, boys and girls ...)

For example, a current promotion by WorldNetDaily says the American Civil Liberties Union "hates God." The sites' magazine suggests there will be efforts to remove "In God We Trust" from U.S. currency, fire military chaplains and expunge all references to God in America's founding documents. (Learn more for just $39.95 ...) The Alliance Defense Fund is raising money on a campaign of "It's OK to say Merry Christmas, regardless of the legal threats from the ACLU and its allies." (And you can get two Christmas pins for $29.)

Of course, there is no "Merry Christmas" lawsuit, nor is there any ACLU litigation about U.S. currency, military chaplains, etc. But that's not important to these groups, because their real message is this: By protecting the religious freedom of Muslims, Jews and other non-Christians through preventing government entanglement with religion, the ACLU and ICLU are cluttering your world with diversity.

Defending the rights of Christians

These serpentine organizations are as far from the Christianity I grew up with as Pat Robertson is from Moses. In truth, it is these alleged Christians who are taking the Christ out of Christmas. Nowhere in the Sermon on the Mount did Jesus Christ ask that we celebrate His birth with narrow-mindedness and intolerance, especially for those who are already besieged and persecuted. Instead, Christ commanded us to love our neighbor, and to comfort the sick and the imprisoned.

That's what the ACLU and ICLU do, folks. Maybe these hucksters haven't looked outside their stained glass Web site long enough to notice, but we have a community filled with people who are sick and disabled, people who are imprisoned, and people who hunger and thirst for justice. Those people come to the ICLU for help, at a rate of several hundred a week, usually because they have nowhere else to turn. The least of our brothers and sisters sure aren't getting any help from the Alliance Defense Fund or WorldNetDaily. So, as often as we can, ICLU secures justice for those folks who Jesus worried for the most.

And we work hard to protect the rights of free religious expression for all people, including Christians. For example, the Indiana Civil Liberties Union is currently defending the First Amendment rights of a Baptist minister to preach his message on public streets in Southern Indiana. The ACLU recently intervened on behalf of a Christian valedictorian in a Michigan high school, which agreed to stop censoring religious yearbook entries, and supported the rights of Iowa students to distribute Christian literature at their school.

There are many more examples, because the ICLU and ACLU are committed to preserving the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom for all. We agree with the U.S. Supreme Court's firm rulings that this freedom means that children who grow up in non-Christian homes should not be made to feel like outsiders in their own community's courthouse, Legislature or public schoolhouse. Jesus loved unpopular minorities, and so does the Bill of Rights.

Of course, I don't mean to imply that all or even a majority of Christians are engaging in this Grinch-like behavior. I have witnessed many amazingly generous acts inspired by the givers' Christian faith. I've been blessed to know many people who truly follow the Beatitudes by tending to the sick and sheltering the homeless in the name of Jesus. Heck, some of my best friends are Christians. (That would include my wife, my kids, my mother ...)

So this Christmas is a good time to call out the alleged Christians who give the faith a bad name for the rest of us.

Happy holidays to all.

A former editor for NUVO, Fran Quigley is executive director of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, www.iclu.org.

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