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Ken Hill

With Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas just around the corner, the "war on Christmas" will soon begin. What is the "war on Christmas"? According to pundits like Rush Limbaugh and fundamentalist Christian leaders and their sheep, it's a secular assault on Christmas (and Christianity) to remove all mention of the "real reason for the season": the birth of Christ.

Fundamentalists disingenuously claim that secular forces, liberals, atheists, agnostics, communists and socialists are warring to remove any mention of the holiday.

First, let's tackle the "reason for the season." The Gospels make no mention of the month and day Christ was born. Early scholars calculated his birth in pretty much every month of the year, which means no one knows.

Christ's birthday was not generally celebrated during the first two centuries. Struggling to grow their religion, Christian leaders began adopting Roman-Pagan traditions such as Saturnalia, celebrated during the Winter Solstice, to make Christianity more acceptable to pagans. It was decided that Christ's birth date would be Dec. 25.

The Roman god Attis was born of a virgin on that date. So was the Greek god Dionysus, son of Zeus, widely worshipped in the Middle East (1 BCE) as far back as the Neolithic period; and Mithra (500 BCE) of Persia, whose birth was announced by Magi. These and other earlier gods, our ancestors were told, were born on Dec. 25. Religions older than Christianity throughout the world either have deities born on or around the 25th or attach some spiritual significance to that time of the year.

The trappings of Christmas -- the tree and decorations, gift giving, the yule log, mistletoe, feasts and more -- were popular among pagans throughout the Old World long before Christians adopted them.

So Jesus was most certainly not the "reason for the season." Christians have made it their reason -- and that's fine. But don't complain if it doesn't get exclusive coverage in all venues during the holidays.

As to the "war" being waged to stamp out everything Christian about the holiday; it's just fearmongering by conservative Christians. There is no war on Christmas, but there is a war on the First Amendment and religious freedom coming from the far right.

They believe religious freedom is for Christianity alone, when it is really about the freedom guaranteed under the Constitution for all religions to freely worship without interference from government of from other religions. It precludes religion from enjoining the state. Forget "majority rules." The 14th Amendment "protects the minority from the tyranny of the majority."

Government is constitutionally prohibited from endorsing or supporting any religion in any way. Prohibitions include promoting prayer, using public funds for sectarian purposes, posting the Ten Commandments and displaying sectarian icons and imagery on public property, and more.

Private business can advertise in any way it chooses during religious holidays as long as it doesn't discriminate. Businesses can display messages of Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays on private property -- that's up to those making the decision.

A wise businessperson would try to be all inclusive considering the variety of beliefs people hold in this community. Even non-Christians can like celebrating various pagan aspects of Christmas.

Among religious/spiritual observances or festivals in December are Ashura (Islamic) on the 5th, Dodhi Day or Buddha's Enlightenment (Buddhist) on the 8th, Hanukkah (Jewish) from Dec. 8 to Dec. 16, and Kwanzaa on Dec. 26. Religious freedom is for all religions, as is the right not to be interfered with or be subjected to bigotry or discrimination even by other religions.

Fundamentalist Christians display intolerance toward all-inclusive holiday slogans, and accompany those complaints with demands to put Christ and Christmas front and center. It seems they are waging the war, and it's against religious freedom, though not theirs.

The holidays are celebrated by nearly everyone in their own way. No one has a right to inform another how to think or believe in matters of conscience. Let us fill this year's holidays with mutual respect as well as love and joy and all the other pagan catchwords for the solstice.

Ken Hill is a 17-year resident of Bakersfield. He is a military veteran and former police officer who currently contracts with the federal government.