By Rob Boston
It’s the first day of December, which means Christmas is coming up soon – and you know what that means: Yep, it’s time for the Religious Right and its allies to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace by lying about our public schools.
The tiresome pattern works like this: Someone tells a wild story about Christmas being banned in a public school. Religious Right legal groups get outraged. The Fox News Channel reports it without bothering to check if it’s true. Far-right bloggers have a field day.
Repeat as many times as necessary until Dec. 26.
Most recently, Heathrow Elementary School in Seminole County, Fla., was maligned by the crew of “Fox & Friends” after a local television station reported that the colors red and green had been banned at the school.
Gretchen Carlson, one of the show’s hosts, asserted Nov. 29 that the school had “banned all things Christmas.” As her co-hosts groaned, Carlson added, “This is so crazy I can’t read the story.” (Media Matters has the video here.)
That story originated with a parent – and it was erroneous. The school issued a statement reading, “Out of respect for their diverse community, the common practice for December classroom activities has been a winter theme which can include red, green, or any color. Unfortunately the principal of the school was not contacted by any parent prior to the news stories. Parents are encouraged to contact the principal with any questions relating to school policies and practices.”
This nonsense has been going on for years. I’ve written before about an epic clash I had with former Fox host John Gibson in December of 2005. Gibson and his partner in prevarication, Bill O’Reilly, were shopping around a number of tales about public schools that had allegedly banned red and green or otherwise tried to banish Christmas.
I was suspicious, so an AU researcher and I hit the phones. We called the schools and found that the stories simply weren’t true. When I accused Gibson of being a liar on the air, he turned purple and started screaming at me. (He later had my microphone cut off – what a class act!)
Some schools fought back. In Dodgeville, Wisc. (home of the famous catalog company Lands’ End), education officials countered a barrage of lies put forth by Liberty Counsel, a Religious Right legal outfit associated with the Jerry Falwell empire. The group had accused school officials of banning “Silent Night” from the school.
It wasn’t true, but the school was flooded with outraged calls and e-mails and had to spend staff time and money defending itself. Officials later requested that the Liberty Counsel reimburse them nearly $24,000.
“Your dissemination of false and misleading information and your threats of specious and frivolous litigation resulted in enormous cost the district,” wrote school attorney Eileen A. Brownlee, in a letter to Liberty Counsel. “You have yet to present the facts either through a press release, one of your ‘alerts’ or through any other means. You used this red herring to attempt to collect money through the form of donations.”
The school never got a dime from Liberty Counsel, of course, but I was pleased by the school attorney’s moxie.
Public schools are not supposed to be in the business of celebrating the religious aspects of Christmas – that’s for the church and the home.
The Religious Right won’t accept this. The goal of these organizations is to turn Americans against public education by portraying it as the domain of religion-hating extremists who are engulfed with blind fury every time they see a candy cane.
What nonsense. The men and women who labor in our public schools are members of the community. Their goal is to educate our children, not drive a holiday into oblivion. I’m sure many of them celebrate Christmas themselves.
These hard-working educators deserve a better holiday present than the buckets of bull constantly dumped on them by the Religious Right and their pals at the Fox News Channel.