At the lighting of the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse in Washington last week (that’s last year’s tree on the left), President Obama wished Americans a Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday Season. His remarks, in part, were quite sectarian:
More than 2,000 years ago, a child was born to two faithful travelers who could find rest only in a stable, among the cattle and the sheep. But this was not just any child. Christ’s birth made the angels rejoice and attracted shepherds and kings from afar. He was a manifestation of God’s love for us. And He grew up to become a leader with a servant’s heart who taught us a message as simple as it is powerful: that we should love God, and love our neighbor as ourselves.
That teaching has come to encircle the globe. It has endured for generations. And today, it lies at the heart of my Christian faith and that of millions of Americans. No matter who we are, or where we come from, or how we worship, it’s a message that can unite all of us on this holiday season. . . . And this holiday season, let us reaffirm our commitment to each other, as family members, as neighbors, as Americans, regardless of our color or creed or faith. Let us remember that we are one, and we are a family.
Our readers in Europe (and Rhode Island) might find the first paragraph, which could easily have come from an evangelical preacher, a bit shocking, but official statements like this are very much a part of the American tradition. Did the President violate the Establishment Clause? I hardly think so, even under the endorsement test, given the context of his remarks and the fact that he coupled the sectarian reference with a more universal message of good will to everyone, regardless of creed – a message that is part of the Christmas story, too. (H/T: First Things).