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Sapere aude - dare to be wise
Monday, October 24, 2005
The "War on Christmas"
Posted 1:19 AM by Joshua Claybourn
Fox News anchor John Gibson's latest book is out and it's titled, "The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought." Chapter 6 is titled, "Indianapolis, Indiana: The Law School Evicts a Totally Legal Christmas Tree." The chapter quotes me in several places. Given the prominence this book will have it's worth exploring its accuracy and thesis.

Chapter 6 focuses on a two year old controversy at the law school involving the removal of a Christmas tree from the building's atrium. After Prof. Roisman and two students had complained about the alleged Christian connotations of the tree, it was removed and an "Indiana winter scene" was put up in its place (pictured right).

The chapter begins with a detailed description of former Dean Anthony Tarr's slow exposure to American holiday festivities (he is Australian by birth), eventually culminating in his purchase of a "12 foot kangaroo with a red nose." The chapter includes extensive quotes from his wife, professor Julie-Ann Tarr, all designed to paint the picture of a well-intentioned dean about to unwittingly step in a hornets nest.

Well intentioned or not, a hornet's nest is exactly what Dean Tarr stepped into. To his credit John Gibson does a decent job of reporting the facts that led to the tree's removal, but it is the thesis that follows which I must differentiate with to some degree. Gibson works hard to portray an ongoing battle between Christian students and a monolithcally liberal faculty. On page 107-108 he writes:
So the Christian students were in a state of extra watchfulness even before the Christmas tree incident, but when it was taken down they were positive they had caught the school in what they believed was yet another incident that demonstrated an anti-Christian bias.

Claybourn and [Jon] Mayes weren't alone in their objections.
One gets the sense that I believe our particular school has a bad anti-Christian bias, and simply put, I don't. I did object to removing the Christmas tree, both on principle and because it was done in secret without discussion. I think a vast majority of people, including faculty members, would admit that academia is home to a large number of secular liberals. But I don't believe our school has any more "anti-Christian bias" than others.

That was clearly the picture Gibson wished to portray based on the questions he kept posing to me. I declined to take the bait and ultimately he turned to a student email from the infamous listserv debate:
One of the Christian law students wrote in another e-mail that the issue of liberal indoctrination in the classroom was on the minds of many Christian students. "I also brought it up before class with people," the student wrote to one of his friends, also a Christian student, "and they said they usually just pretend to be indoctrinated to get the grade and then go on believing their same values. It seems that a large number of people do think they need to offer a non-Christian view on exams in order to pass."
Gibson doesn't offer the name of that student, but I have to disagree with them. One's religion rarely, if ever, becomes an issue on exams or classroom discussion. And even if the topic arose and some sort of religious position had to be taken, I can't imagine a single professor at IU School of Law - Indianapolis who would mark a student down for it.

Although Christians are not persecuted at our law school any more than elsewhere, I would remind them of Jesus' words in Matthew 5:11-12: "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." In other words, Christians should expect to be persecuted for their beliefs until the end of time.

When all else fails there's always satire. In one Christmas episode of South Park, the popular cartoon program on Comedy Central, the townspeople go at one another's throats over what symbols can and can't be used in the children's Christmas play. In order to quiet fighting Jews, Catholics, and tree-huggers, the mayor orders the town to come up with "the most non-offensive Christmas ever." The school even takes away Christmas lights "because they might offend people with epilepsy."

The actual pageant, billed "The Happy Non-Offensive, Non-Denominational Christmas Play," ends up featuring minimalist composer Philip Glass playing hideous avant-garde music. The audience erupts in rage until they are calmed by the Yuletide figure called Mr. Hankey, who tells them to get over themselves, to quit focusing on what's wrong with Christmas, and instead celebrate the joy and fellowship of the season. (The program also shows a lonely Jesus with a birthday cake, having to sing "Happy Birthday" to himself.)

It's funny stuff, especially since Ms. Hankey is talking fecal matter. But as with most things South Park, there's a serious point: It's a sad day when the message given by a cartoon Christmas poo is more reasonable than the humorless, uptight P.C. crowd.

Bonus material: Here's a link to the video of John Gibson on the O'Reilly Factor discsusing the book. Here's John Gibson's column introducing the book.

As seen in the
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