President Obama and the First Family were planning a “non-religious Christmas,” according to Social Secretary Desiree Rogers. Ms. Rogers reportedly told a gathering of former social secretaries that the Obamas did not intend on putting the Nativity scene on display – a longtime East Room tradition.
The account was reported in the Fashion and Style section of The New York Times. The White House confirmed to the Times that there had been internal discussions about making Christmas more inclusive – but in the end – tradition won out – and the Nativity scene is once again in its traditional East Room spot.
I just received an email response from the White House for comment. Here’s what the First Lady’s office says:
“It has been a part of White House Christmas decorations in the past, it is on display in the East Room for all to enjoy and it will continue to be a part of White House Christmas decorations moving forward.”
“The President spoke movingly about the scene the crèche depicts in his remarks at the lighting of the National Christmas Tree last week: Tonight, we celebrate a story that is as beautiful as it is simple. The story of a child born far from home to parents guided only by faith, but who would ultimately spread a message that has endured for more than 2,000 years – that no matter who we are or where we are from, we are each called to love one another as brother and sister. While this story may be a Christian one, its lesson is universal. It speaks to the hope we share as a people. And it represents a tradition that we celebrate as a country – a tradition that has come to represent more than any one holiday or religion, but a season of brotherhood and generosity to our fellow citizens.”
As for whether there had been discussions about “inclusiveness,” the White House replied, “Discussions about inclusiveness did not include whether or not to display it but rather how to display it during the Hannukah party.”
Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, accused the president of trying to “neuter” Christmas.
“Unlike almost all Americans—including atheists—the Obamas do not give their children Christmas gifts. We know this because Barack bragged about this last year to People magazine. So it should come as no big surprise that he and his wife would like to neuter Christmas in the White House. That’s their natural step—to ban the public display of Christian symbols. Have any doubts? Last April, Georgetown University was ordered to put a drape over the name of Jesus as a condition of the president speaking there.
If the Obamas want to deprive their children of celebrating Christmas, that is their business. It is the business of the public to hold them accountable for the way they celebrate Christmas in the White House. We know one thing for sure: no other administration ever entertained internal discussions on whether to display a nativity scene in the White House.”
In related Christmas controversy:
The United Nations has banned Christmas trees from its global climate summit. Officials said the UN must remain religion-neutral.
In Ashland, OR, students at Bellview Elementary School erected a “giving tree.” The tree featured tags soliciting Christmas gifts for needy children. Principal Michelle Zundel removed the tree over the weekend after some families complained.
However, the Supreme Court ruled a Christmas tree is not a religious symbol. That didn’t matter to Ms Zundel. “If you are entering a public school and your family does not celebrate Christmas, then it feels like a religious symbol.”
And in Waterbury, CT, students have been told to say, “Happy Winter,” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Erik Brown is the principal of Walsh Elementary School. He has banned all religious festivities and decorations. He told the Republican-American newspaper that he’s just following state law. “This is not a church,” he said. “It’s a school and it’s a public school. I have to do things that include every child. So what we do is celebrate winter.”