by JewsOnFirst.org, December 20, 2007
Congressional Democrats -- including most Jewish Democrats -- voted for a resolution last week that "acknowledges and supports the role played by Christians and Christianity in the founding of the United States." We expect the Christian right to cite that language in their frequent claims that the United States was founded as a Christian nation.
372 members of Congress voted for the resolution, House Res. 847, "Recognizing the Importance of Christmas and the Christian Faith." Only nine members voted "no." Ten members voted "present," effectively abstaining from the December 11th vote.
Whereas Christmas, a holiday of great significance to Americans and many other cultures and nationalities, is celebrated annually by Christians throughout the United States and the world;
Whereas there are approximately 225,000,000 Christians in the United States, making Christianity the religion of over three-fourths of the American population;
Whereas there are approximately 2,000,000,000 Christians throughout the world, making Christianity the largest religion in the world and the religion of about one-third of the world population;
Whereas Christians and Christianity have contributed greatly to the development of western civilization;
Whereas the United States, being founded as a constitutional republic in the traditions of western civilization, finds much in its history that points observers back to its Judeo-Christian roots;
Whereas on December 25 of each calendar year, American Christians observe Christmas, the holiday celebrating the birth of their savior, Jesus Christ;
Whereas for Christians, Christmas is celebrated as a recognition of God's redemption, mercy, and Grace; and
Whereas many Christians and non-Christians throughout the United States and the rest of the world, celebrate Christmas as a time to serve others: Now, therefore be it
Resolved, That the House of Representatives--
(1) recognizes the Christian faith as one of the great religions of the world;
(2) expresses continued support for Christians in the United States and worldwide;
(3) acknowledges the international religious and historical importance of Christmas and the Christian faith;
(4) acknowledges and supports the role played by Christians and Christianity in the founding of the United States and in the formation of the western civilization;
(5) rejects bigotry and persecution directed against Christians, both in the United States and worldwide; and
(6) expresses its deepest respect to American Christians and Christians throughout the world.
Rep. Frank: Congress Should not pronounce on religion
Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) told JewsOnFirst that many members would have voted against the measure if the vote had been by secret ballot.
Most Democrats felt compelled to vote for the measure because they supported recent resolutions acknowledging the Muslim fast of Ramadan and Diwali, a Hindu festival.
A spokesman for Rep. Steve Israel, a New York Democrat who has been a leader in challenging religious coercion in the military by fundamentalist Christian evangelicals, cited the two earlier resolutions as the reason Israel voted "yes" on H. Res. 847.
Rep. Frank, who voted "present" on the Christmas resolution, said this week that he should have done the same on the Ramadan resolution. "Congress shouldn't be pronouncing on religion," he said in a telephone interview with JewsOnFirst. Frank said that Congress' responsibility was protecting the right to practice religion.
On December 18th Frank made a statement on the House floor about the two votes. He said: "I decided to vote 'present' [on the Christmas resolution] because it made some controversial statements about the constitutional history of the United States and the role of Christianity in that."
In his statement Frank said that, in retrospect, he wished he had abstained on the Ramadan bill as well. He said: "I should have voted 'present' on both, not out of any disrespect for either religion, but out of respect for a system of democratic governance in which we politicians don't decide what is or isn't good religion. "
The resolution's sponsor, Iowa Republican Steve King, lost no time in attacking the Democrats who voted "present" rather than for his measure. Appearing on a Fox news channel, King called them part of "an assault on Christianity in America." He said: "I would like to know how they can vote yes on Ramadan, yes on the Indian religions but no on Christianity."
Those who voted "no"
Rep. Gary Ackerman of New York, a Jewish Democrat who voted against the bill did not return a phone call requesting comment. He is quoted in a JTA report about the resolution saying that "Congress has better things to do than to infringe upon the separation of church and state."
Ackerman said that, unlike H.Res. 847, the Ramadan and Diwali measures "stayed away from all the religiosity and innuendo that a specific religion and not freedom of religion was a founding principle of America."
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL), who voted no, told a Florida newspaper that the resolution was “not about supporting Christmas. It was another sad attempt by conservative Republicans to skew the line between Church and State and impose their belief that America is a Christian nation.” The paper said he was being criticized for his vote.
Also voting "no" were Democrats Barbara Lee, Pete Stark and Lynn Woolsey of California, Diana DeGette of Colorado, Yvette Clarke of New York, Jim McDermott of Washington, and Bobby Scott of Virginia. Republican Mike Pence of Indiana also voted "no."
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri made a statement in the Congressional Record of December 11th (page H15275) that he would have voted "no" had he not missed the vote.
The resolution came during the Christian right's annual campaign against what it styles the "war against Christmas." The focus is primarly on intimidating businesses which greet customers with the term Happy Holidays, rather than Merry Christmas, because the former is more inclusive.