WASHINGTON (JTA) – A seemingly benign U.S. congressional resolution supporting Christmas has become the latest fodder in the debate over whether America is a “Christian nation.”
Nearly all the members of the House of Representatives, including a majority of Jewish members, voted for the Dec. 11 resolution acknowledging the celebration of Christmas and the role Christians have played in U.S. history.
But the resolution’s author, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), has since lashed out at the nine “liberal Democrats” who voted against the resolution and questioned how they had supported a different resolution supporting Ramadan.
In a Dec. 12 appearance on Fox News, King said: “I would like to know how they can vote yes on Ramadan, yes on the Indian religions and no on Christianity when the foundation of this nation and our American culture is Christian.”
The rhetoric over the so-called Christmas wars has been toned down this year, with Christian conservatives less vocal than in the past about the need to “protect” Christmas from those who would downplay its public and religious significance.
At the same time, the congressional dust-up comes as Jews and others express discomfort with the decidedly central role of faith in the race for the Republican nominee for president.
King had voted “present” on the two other recent religious resolutions, one honoring Ramadan, which passed on Oct. 2, and one recognizing the Indian holiday of Diwali, which passed on Oct. 29.
Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) was the only Jewish representative to vote against the Christmas resolution. In 2005 he had led the charge against another resolution on Christmas – one to “protect” the holiday.
During that debate, Ackerman publicly wondered whether Santa Claus had been mugged or there had been threats of elf tossings.
“Congress has better things to do than to infringe upon the separation of church and state,” Ackerman told JTA this week.
“If the Christmas resolution did what the Ramadan measure did, recognize the importance of the holiday and denounce hatred, with no reference to Mohammed, or what the Dawali resolution did, recognize the festival and the pluralism and diversity in the Indian and American society, and stayed away from all the religiosity and innuendo that a specific religion and not freedom of religion was a founding principle of America, I would not think it pushed on the separation clause.”
“Make no mistake: I like Santa Claus. I love the separation clause,” he added. “But being that it passed, they owe me eight resolutions for Chanukah.”
Most of the 30 Jewish lawmakers voted for the resolution.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), Jan Shakowsky (D-Ill.), John Yarmuth(D-Ky.), Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.) had voted recently for a resolution commemorating the importance of Ramadan, yet did not vote on the Christmas resolution.
Ackerman also had voted for the resolution commemorating Ramadan. Two other Jewish lawmakers, Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) and Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), were not present for the Christmas resolution vote.
The ’05 resolution, which strongly disapproved “of attempts to ban references to Christmas” and expressed “support for the use of these symbols and traditions,” had even greater support from Congress than the current Christmas measure.
It was sponsored by Rep. Joanne Davis (R-Va.), who died this year.
Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) had countered the ’05 resolution by drafting a similar bill honoring Chanukah, Kwanzaa and Ramadan. Israel’s bill died in committee.
Israel voted in favor of this year’s Christmas resolution.
“The resolution in 2005 implied that Christmas was under attack,” Israel’s communications director, Meghan Dubyak, told JTA, adding that Israel believed the current resolution was written in the spirit of the previous two commemorations of Ramadan and Diwali.
Though this year’s resolution makes no mention of other religious holidays, language was added to make clear that the United States was built by people who had “Judeo-Christian” beliefs, not just Christian beliefs.