White House Christmas Tree in the Blue  Room.Cue the sanctimonious rage, the accusations that Christmas is being outlawed in in one US state, the wild-eyed delusional claims of Christian persecution. And what, you may ask, sparked the furor that has lit up Fox News and Religious Right pundits around the country?

Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee has named his statehouse’s decorated tree a “holiday tree,” and not a “Christmas tree.”

Fortunately, as the Boston Herald reports, Chafee has no intention of caving in to the Religious Right caterwauling and wailing over his choice of labels (WebCite cached article):

A beaming Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee calmly weathered a cross-country Christmas controversy yesterday, standing by his PC pronouncement that the 17-foot spruce in the State House rotunda is a “holiday tree” as outraged residents cried foul.

Taking the Christmas out of the tree is in the Rhode Island spirit, Chafee said, invoking the 1663 Colonial charter and the legacy of state father Roger Williams.

“I’m just continuing what other governors have done,” Chafee told the Herald after dedicating a separate tree to soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I just want to make sure I’m doing everything possible in this building to honor Roger Williams.”

For any of my readers who don’t understand the importance of Rhode Island’s history and how it specifically relates to the idea of separating church and state, R.I.’s founder, Roger Williams, was a Baptist minister who’d endured Puritan persecution in the Massachusetts colony, found refuge among the Narragansett to the south, and established his own colony on the premise of religious liberty. He penned The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, a treatise promoting religious tolerance and freedom of conscience, including Christian-scriptural support. Rhode Island, perhaps more than any other state, has a heritage of religious tolerance. So Chafee is not overstating his reasons for insisting on “holiday tree” instead of “Christmas tree.”

Besides, since Christmas is a “holiday,” it is never semantically wrong to call a “Christmas tree” a “holiday tree.” If it weren’t for the modern Christian custom of putting up Christmas trees, there would be no “holiday tree” in the Rhode Island statehouse, so it hardly matters what the governor calls it; as New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick would say, “It is what it is.” The militant Christianist outrage over this is just ridiculous. People really need to fucking grow up.

P.S. Having mentioned Roger Williams, I’d like to add something important. Thomas Jefferson is frequently named as the man who coined the phrase “separation of church and state” (in his famous 1802 letter to the Danbury CT Baptists). But in fact, he didn’t. Roger Williams did. In Bloudy Tenent, he wrote:

When they [the Church] have opened a gap in the hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world, God hath ever broke down the wall itself, removed the Candlestick, etc., and made His Garden a wilderness as it is this day.

Given how well-read Jefferson was, it’s not safe to assume he couldn’t have been inspired by Williams.

Hat tip: Friendly Atheist.

Photo credit: alvesfamily.

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