By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
December 7, 2012
MORGANTON — Members of a student club in western North Carolina who had their fundraiser redefined as a “holiday tree sale” by misinformed college officials can once again advertise Christmas trees, thanks to the Alliance Defending Freedom.
“We rejoice with ADF in the fact that Western Piedmont Community College admitted its mistake and is allowing the club’s use of the word ‘Christmas,'” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina. “The irony of this is that WPCC is in Morganton, near the heart of North Carolina’s 25,000 acres of Christmas trees.”
The controversy began when WPCC’s BEST (Building Energy Sustainable Technology) Society submitted a form to announce its Christmas Tree sale via the college’s marketing forum. In the Oct. 29 Pioneer Press, the ad appeared exactly as requested, but by Nov. 1, when it was posted on WPCC’s website, every reference to “Christmas Trees” had been replaced with “holiday trees.” The wording was also changed on the marquee and in the Nov. 19 Pioneer Press ad.
When members of the BEST Society inquired, they were told that the trees could not be marketed “in association solely with a Christian event.”
But members of the community who had supported the club in the past didn’t appreciate the removal of “Christmas” from the ads and therefore the change “resulted in direct harm to the club’s fundraising activity, the proceeds of which are being used to support Angel Tree, an organization that provides Christmas gifts to children,” according to a letter from ADF to college administrators.
Matthew Sharp, ADF legal counsel, told WPCC officials that the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment prohibits public universities from censoring the speech of student groups based on the content or viewpoint of their expression and that their removal of all references to Christmas was “blatant viewpoint discrimination.” ADF asked for written confirmation that the BEST Society’s ads would no longer be censored and that current ads would be revised.
“It’s ridiculous that anyone would have to think twice about using the word ‘Christmas’ as part of a Christmas tree sale,” Sharp said in a press release. “Not only is it perfectly constitutional to use the word ‘Christmas,’ it is unconstitutional to prohibit use of it. This is another perfect example of the immense misunderstanding that far too many college officials have about what the First Amendment truly requires.”
Sharp was quick to commend those same officials for reversing their decision.
We’re very pleased to see that the college responded so quickly, admitted their error and is doing the right thing in remedying this,” the ADF attorney told OneNewsNow. “Far too often we see colleges and universities dig in their heels on these issues of discrimination against religious speech and try and justify it.”
Atticus Simpson, vice president of student development at the college, called the censorship “a legitimate mistake” and told the media, “We thought we were violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by promoting the sale of Christmas trees — which we thought would be promoting one religion over another.”
Dr. Creech said the insertion of the “newspeak” term “holiday tree” is just one of many examples of attacks on Christian expression taking place this Christmas season, some from people who don’t understand the First Amendment and are in fear of being sued and others from those who adamantly oppose Christianity and will protest any mention of the Lord, whether it’s the singing of a Christmas carol or the display of a nativity scene.
“As Christians, we must be careful how we respond to these attacks. We can’t be so sensitive that we get offended every time we hear the word ‘holiday,’ but we must be ready to speak out and stand firm when the traditions surrounding our faith come under fire,” he said. “We suggest Christians make sure they’re informed, and ADF’s resource on Seasonal Religious Expression is a great place to start.”
He said Christians should also remember to respond in love, sharing the reason for the season, rather than engaging in petty bickering over someone’s secular seasonal greeting.
“If someone says ‘happy holidays’ and you want to bring their thinking around to Christmas specifically, you can respond by saying ‘Yes it is a holy day – it’s the day to celebrate the birth of our savior!'” Dr. Creech said. “Isn’t that a better message to send than to chide them for not saying ‘Merry Christmas’?”
“Make no mistake, there is a war on Christmas, and we need to stand firm and in step with organizations like ADF that are on the front lines defending the free speech rights of every American,” he added. “But we also need to remember to respond to that war with peace — the peace of Christ, which, after all, is what Christmas is all about.”