Those wacky Indiana legislators are at it again.
In 2012, Republican State Rep. Bob Morris of Fort Wayne was widely ridiculed for refusing to sign a resolution recognizing the Girl Scouts' 100th anniversary because the national organization had become “a tactical arm of Planned Parenthood.”
That same year the General Assembly overwhelmingly supported a state constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman. But the decision must be affirmed this session in order to be put to voters in the fall, and the growing clout of the gay-rights movement has placed the outcome in doubt and generated the usual charges of “hate,” “discrimination” and, of course, “homophobia.”
And now, just this week, the Indiana Senate unanimously endorsed the so-called “Merry Christmas bill,” which would allow schools to display religious symbols and to acknowledge the history of “winter holidays” – an effort dismissed as frivolous by this newspaper's conservative editorial page.
But, in fact, these efforts – reflective of similar concerns bubbling up across the country – are not extreme, mean-spirited, ill-informed or trivial. On the contrary, they represent a healthy and overdue attempt to restore some balance to a cultural debate that has become far too one-sided in recent years.
Critics of the Christmas bill point out that even co-author Sen. Jim Smith of Charlestown could name only one case of a school clamping down on Christmas. Smith himself has said that it's “just crazy that we even have to move a bill like this.”
He's right about that, which is precisely the point.
Because a large majority of Americans once shared what might be called “traditional” values, most people took the cultural supremacy of those values for granted. At times, the near-universality of the American culture unfairly oppressed those outside the mainstream. Later on, the liberty implicit in those values resulted in a greater appreciation for diversity and self-expression.
But as British philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) once noted, “All movements go too far.” Today, thanks in large part to traditionalists' complacency, society is often willing to tolerate almost anything but the very values that embraced tolerance in the first place.
When even Superman says “truth, justice and the 'American Way' is not enough anymore” – as he did in 2011 – you know things have changed.
And so, even though schools may still have the freedom to hold “Christmas” parties, the Fort Wayne Community Schools' calendar mentions only a “winter vacation” that coincidentally includes Dec. 25. And in New York City, where the schools also break for winter, new Mayor Bill DeBlasio wants class to be excused for Ramadan and the Lunar New Year.
The point is not that new cultures and viewpoints should not be heard, but that the once-dominant culture should not be silenced. How can it be extreme or hateful to oppose gay marriage when that has been the norm in Western culture for thousands of years and was the position of President Obama only a few years ago?
How can Morris be considered extreme for linking the national Girl Scout organization to a leading advocate of abortion when it has recently honored Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis, two outspoken defenders of late-term abortion?
How can it be extreme not to notice that the same president who defended religious freedom overseas at the recent National Prayer Breakfast is being sued for trying to force religious institutions to provide health insurance that violates their beliefs?
True diversity requires not only embracing new people and ideas, but also preserving, respecting and co-existing with the best traditions of the past.
The News-Sentinel editorial was right: The Legislature has a lot of important issues on its plate. But the traditionalists did not ask for the Christmas battle, any more than they asked for the debate over gay marriage, the Girl Scouts, abortion on demand, Obamacare and a host of other “progressive” challenges to traditional American values. Defenders of those values have been defined as extreme or backward in part because of their own acquiescence; by their failure to explain, defend and attempt to win converts to their own beliefs until very late in the battle.
So although it is still legally permissible to say “Merry Christmas” in the Fort Wayne Community Schools, you can bet some people don't – simply to be politically correct or legally safe. If the law gives such people enough backbone to state the obvious (Christmas has been a federal holiday since 1870), it will have served a purpose – at least until the ACLU challenges it in court.
Will that be dismissed as "frivolous," too?