Saturday, December 23, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

E-mail article     Print


"War on Christmas" pays off for some religious groups

Los Angeles Times

The "War on Christmas" never has been so profitable.

For the fourth consecutive year, conservative Christian groups have spent much of December mobilizing against what they see as a liberal plot to censor Christmas.

But it's more than a cause this year. It's a heck of a fundraiser.

The American Family Association, a conservative activist group, has rung up more than $550,000 in sales of buttons and magnets stamped with the slogan "Merry CHRISTmas: It's Worth Saying."

Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit law firm affiliated with the religious right, has taken in more than $300,000 with its "Help Save Christmas Action Packs."

The kits include two buttons, two bumper stickers and "The Memo that Saved Christmas," a guide to defending overt religious expression, such as a Nativity scene in a public-school classroom.

The group also offers the buttons separately. Costing 40 cents to make, they're sold 10 for $10 and at bulk rates, said Mat Staver, president of Orlando, Fla.-based Liberty Counsel.

Also for sale through conservative Web sites: Christmas bracelets, tree ornaments and lapel pins intended to send a message to those who would turn December into what these groups consider a multicultural mush of "winter parties," "seasonal sales" and "Happy Holidays" greetings.

Christmas warriors also can download — for free — lists that rank retailers as either "naughty" or "nice," depending on how often their ads refer to Christmas rather than a generic holiday.

With minimal advertising on Christian radio stations, Liberty Counsel rang up more than 12,000 orders for its memo, also available online for free. The minimum donation to get a packet was $25; many supporters kicked in more.

"It's just a fundraising scam," said the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. "And it's a scam in the worst sense — it's fighting something that doesn't even exist."

Some insist the war is real and say wearing their Christmas buttons and bracelets boosts morale. Strangers who notice the buttons flash smiles or approach each other to trade horror stories about chain stores that sell "holiday trees" and teachers who ban sacred songs from school concerts.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport briefly was involved in a skirmish this month after a rabbi complained the airport had Christmas trees but no Hanukkah menorah.

The airport's 14 trees were taken down and, after a national uproar, put back up.

A Zogby International poll conducted last month found that 46 percent of Americans are offended when a store clerk greets them with "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." More than one-third of the 12,800 adults surveyed said they have walked out of a store or resolved to avoid it because clerks didn't show enough Christmas spirit.

"It's the whole peace-on-Earth and goodwill-toward-man thing. It lifts us up when people can say 'Merry Christmas' without worrying about whether it's politically correct," said Jennifer Giroux, a Cincinnati entrepreneur.

She began marketing rubber bracelets urging "Just Say 'Merry Christmas' " last December; she sold more than 50,000 this season, at $2 apiece.

She said she plans to donate her profits to a Christian charity. "It's never been about the money," she said. "It's about the message."

If the message can make money, though, so much the better.

Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association said the revenue from "War on Christmas" merchandise supplemented the ministry's $13 million annual budget.

The association got an early start this year, raising the flag in the "Christmas wars" in August by criticizing "holiday" catalogs.

All 500,000 buttons and 125,000 magnets sold out. "It was very successful for us," Wildmon said.

Liberty Counsel, too, rated the sale a success. "It did help with donations, but more than anything else, it helped with exposure," spokeswoman Robin Bryant said. She said the group has been able to add many new names to its mailing list for future fund drives.

Fundraising went so well that the religious right plans to branch out. Next up: the war on Easter.

Scouts for the American Family Association, based in Tupelo, Miss., have an eye out for stores that promote "spring baskets" or "spring bonnets" instead of celebrating Christ's resurrection. The group has a stash of Easter buttons, featuring three gold crosses and the words "He Lives."

They'll go on sale just after New Year's.

Details about Sea-Tac from Seattle Times archives. Additional information from Religion News Service

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


Get home delivery today!