A public-interest law firm specializing in cases involving disputes about religious expression has selected a humanist group attempting to prevent Colorado schoolchildren from being asked to put together Christmas gift boxes sponsored by an evangelical charity as winner of a dubious award presented each year identifying a person or organization trying to take religion out of the holidays.
Becket Law, also known as the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, announced the American Humanist Association winner of the 2017 Ebenezer Award — a hat tip to the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge character in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol written in 1843 — for going to federal court in November to defend a lawsuit alleging religious coercion by a school district that participated in Operation Christmas Child, a program run by Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian ministry headed by evangelical leader and Trump supporter Franklin Graham.
The Washington, D.C., -based organization, which works to safeguard the rights of humanists, atheists and other non-believers, appeared in Denver Nov. 16 for oral arguments in a lawsuit filed in October 2014 and appealed this year in February.
The humanists claim the Douglas County School District’s “policy, practice, and custom of advancing, endorsing, affiliating with, and sponsoring — both symbolically and tangibly — Christian organizations and their proselytizing and evangelical efforts” violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The lawsuit filed on behalf of anonymous clients says at least three schools in the county in the past encouraged students to bring toothbrushes, toothpaste, bars of soap and other items such as hard candy to pack shoeboxes for an impoverished boy or girl somewhere around the world to receive as a Christmas gift.
The humanists say Samaritan’s Purse is open about the fact the shoeboxes are intended as a tool to evangelize, making Operation Christmas Child an inappropriate activity for children in a public school.
“As taxpaying citizens with children in the school district, these families object to their schools supporting the efforts of Christian missions to convert children in developing countries,” David Niose, legal director of the American Humanist Association, said in a November press release. “Pressuring students to participate in religious programs in their public schools flies in the face of the separation of church and state that the Establishment Clause demands.”
Becket Law, founded in 1994 and named after Thomas à Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury martyred in 1170 amid conflict with King Henry II over the rights and privileges of clergy under English common law, said the American Humanist Association is most deserving of this year’s lump of coal.
“We’re talking about school children putting together care packages for other children who are in need,” said Kristina Arriaga, executive director of Becket Law. “If we can’t support that at Christmas, we are truly living in Scrooge’s world.”
Past Ebenezer Award winners include the Department of Veteran Affairs for banning employees at a Virginia facility from saying “Merry Christmas” to veterans in 2015, the U.S. Postal Service for telling Christmas carolers at a post office in Maryland in 2011 they were not allowed to sing on government property and Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, for objecting to a church-sponsored shoe giveaway at schools in South Carolina in 2007.
The Christian Post reported Dec. 19 that Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, prayed blessings on the president-elect at the final stop on Donald Trump’s “thank you tour.”
“Yesterday I had the privilege of joining with thousands of people in Alabama to pray for President-elect Donald J. Trump, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, and to thank God for His hand of blessing on this nation. I was invited to lead in prayer at the final stop of their Thank You Tour,” Graham reported on Facebook.
Graham, who also runs the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, spent much of the campaign season visiting all 50 state capitals in his Decision America tour challenging 230,000 Christians across the nation to “pray, vote and engage in the political process.”
Graham didn’t endorse any candidate before the election but afterward described Trump’s win as the “biggest political upset of our lifetime.” Graham said he has known Trump for years and considers him “a changed man” since 2005, when lewd remarks he made about women were captured on video and brought to light during the 2016 campaign.
Recently Graham said he doesn’t believe it was the Russians who intervened in the election but God, in answer to the prayers “of hundreds of thousands of people across this land who had been praying for this country.”
Compared to his father, dubbed “the pope of Protestant America” during a 40-year ministry ending with his retirement in 2005, Franklin Graham has been more polarizing. He denounced Islam as an “evil and wicked religion” and supported Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the country during the presidential campaign.
He accused President Obama of fighting “to promote ungodly sexual behavior” over the last eight years and compared First Lady Michelle Obama to the apocalyptic “Whore of Babylon” mentioned in the Book of Revelation.
In October two Baptist ministers in Canada announced they were boycotting a Graham crusade in British Columbia, saying the evangelist’s “frequent incendiary and intolerant statements” make him a poor witness for the gospel message.