But the lack of "Scriptural warrant" for the modern American form of the Christmas celebration isn't where Hitchens is going with this piece. In fact, it's because Christmas is religious that he's opposed to the Christmas decorations in the public part of the White House. Why isn't it enough, he asks, that there are Christmas decorations on all sorts of private property?
It is not the business of the Chief Executive to take any part in this business, and he has already sworn an oath to put the Constitution first, last and above all. This oath is not general but specific, which means that any detail however trivial is important. May his daughters' stockings be well-stuffed, may a mythical Saint Nick from ancient mythology delight them, may visions of sugar-plums dance in their heads, and may they be little drummer girls for baby Jesus but please, not in the parts of the White House that belong to the world's first secular Republic.Can you imagine what a fool Barack Obama would be if he took on the project of banishing Christmas decorations from the White House? He of all Presidents — because his Christianity has been questioned — needs to put on the usual display. Oh, we could credit him with bravery if he made this his issue, but his political power is at stake, and I don't want a Commander in Chief who throws away power to gesture at an ideal. And, ironically, it would be the sort of gesture that would stir up political opposition and tend to lead to bold gestures in the other direction if Obama is ousted in 2012. Better to stand on the middle ground and adopt an easygoing maintenance of American Christmas traditions in the White House.
But quite aside from that — assume some other President taking Hitchens's teachings to heart — what is the good of taking away the evergreens and lights that make the darkest part of winter feel especially warm and happy? Does the Constitution require sanitizing religion out of public spaces? It was quite recently — in the case about the stone 10 Commandments monument — that the sensible, practical Justice Breyer wrote:
Where the Establishment Clause is at issue, tests designed to measure “neutrality” alone are insufficient, both because it is sometimes difficult to determine when a legal rule is “neutral,” and becausePeace, Christmastopher.
“untutored devotion to the concept of neutrality can lead to invocation or approval of results which partake not simply of that noninterference and noninvolvement with the religious which the Constitution commands, but of a brooding and pervasive devotion to the secular and a passive, or even active, hostility to the religious.” [School Dist. of Abington Township v. Schempp.]
... [T[he relation between government and religion is one of separation, but not of mutual hostility and suspicion...
Justices Goldberg and Harlan concluded in Schempp that
“[t]he First Amendment does not prohibit practices which by any realistic measure create none of the dangers which it is designed to prevent and which do not so directly or substantially involve the state in religious exercise or in the favoring of religion as to have meaningful and practical impact.”