Atheists Force End to US Troops’ Nativity Tradition Overseas

Some people claim there’s a “war on Christmas” when retailers substitute “Happy Holidays” for “Merry Christmas.”  While some customers or employees may take issue, the retailers’ choices of words probably have little impact on anything, including their bottom line.

By contrast, some atheists are actively working against “Christmas” in the US military — which has a direct and measurable impact on US troops, especially those stationed thousands of miles from the familiar celebrations of home.

As noted previously, the annual raising of “holiday” or “Christmas” trees and Menorahs has begun on US military installations around the world.  The chapels of some bases also put up nativity scenes, as Travis AFB famously did last year.

The US military facility known as “Naval Support Activity (NSA) Bahrain” has held an annual Christmas tree lighting for years.  As part of that activity, carols have been sung, Santa has found his oversized chair, and excessive amounts of cookies and Christmas drinks have been consumed.  In addition, the event has featured a “live nativity,” composed of base children and local animals.  The event even included a photogenic camel.

Jason Torpy, a former Army captain and current atheist activist, considers “a Christmas tree, presents, some [non-Christian] songs, and even Santa Claus as trappings of secular Christmas.”  The nativity, then, had to go.  So an IG complaint was filed [emphasis added]:

This [Nativity] violates the Constitution and the mandates of the command to support all belief while privileging none. The event is billed as a ‘holiday’ event but it is nothing but a Christian activity…it is…clearly and exclusively biased toward Christianity. Also of concern is the likelihood that the predominantly Muslim local population will see the US military as a Christian force…This event threatens US security and violates the Constitution as well as command policy.

So, just to be clear — a party that involves a 30 foot tall Christmas tree, Santa, singing, food, raffles, etc, interrupted by a five minute display of 7 children and a few animals is a “biased Christian activity.”  And removing only the nativity away makes everything ok?  Somebody woke up a little sensitive.

Photo courtesy of NAS Bahrain MWR.

“Upon further review,” NSA Bahrain chose to pull the “live nativity” from the event (though the camel got to stay).  Torpy claims victory:

This is an outcome that provides an affirming and enjoyable private Christian celebration for those interested as well as a religiously-neutral and enjoyable secular “holiday” celebration for other installation personnel.

He fails to explain how the “predominantly Muslim population” will feel now that the nativity is gone.

NAS Bahrain’s Christmas tree lighting announcement, pre- and post-atheist intervention.  Muslim offense averted!

To be clear, nothing in the Christian faith requires kids to dress up as shepherds or wear a blue headband and hold a plastic baby while fidgeting during Christmas pageants or in “live nativities.” In that strict respect, the US Constitution’s prohibition on the undue restriction of free exercise of religion is not relevant.

On the other hand, should the US government take action against something solely because of its religious content, it may violate its own policies on discrimination on the basis of religion — something expressly forbidden by military regulations.

Still, it does not appear any official “order” was necessarily given.  Torpy quotes the IG response saying

the CRP (Command Religious Program) will be removing the Living Nativity Program from the general base secular holiday festivities…

In other words, whether under the advice of a commander or of their own volition, it seems the local chaplains chose to end the event.  Despite Torpy’s claims, there was no reason for them to do so.  At least one family stationed at Bahrain expressed disappointment at the removal of the previously announced “live nativity.”  The reason their holiday celebration was sterilized?  Jason Torpy is an atheist.

And the chaplains granted Torpy a heckler’s veto from 7,000 miles away.

Just wait until Spring, when Torpy will get to complain about NSA Bahrain’s Easter celebration, which Michael Weinstein’s MRFF has unsuccessfully targeted in the past.

While US troops and their families in Bahrain have now experienced the friendly influence of atheism on their holiday, the story isn’t done for the rest of the world.  In just one example, it seems Travis AFB has learned from their experience last year:  They previously allowed atheists to erect a display mocking religion (rather than “celebrating reason”), which generated controversy and an Equal Opportunity complaint.  However, since only Travis AFB units can sponsor holiday displays, this year no individual or private organization can put one up — whether they’re atheist or not.

*As an aside, atheists last year tried to say the Air Force was attempting to mask its Christian privilege by erecting a “token” Menorah next to the Travis nativity.  A point of education was in order:  Christmas trees go up because it’s Christmas time.  Stay with it now:  Menorahs go up in recognition of Hanukkah.  Those two separate events happen to occur around the same time each year, thanks to the way the calendar works.  It’s not that complicated of a conspiracy, really.