Today, in the United States District Court in San Francisco, California, the ACLU has filed suit against the United States over the holidays that are designated as federal holidays where the federal government is closed. They argue that Christmas is the only religious holiday on the list and that it does not recognize religious holidays of other religions and it leaves out atheists.

The suit, filed by the ACLU on behalf of several San Francisco plaintiffs, states that those individuals were unfairly discriminated against because they either would not get their religious holiday off or that as atheists, they were given second billing.

Federal holidays are set by 5 U.S.C. 6103 and for 2007 there were ten designated holidays. Many are rather neutral such as Independence Day, New Year's Day, and Thanksgiving. However, Christmas is the only religious holiday where the federal government is closed and its employees get a paid day off. The effect of the lawsuit would be to strike Christmas as a federal holiday and to force the government to stay open on that day.

The suit was originally the idea of Charles Rust-Tierney, the former head of the Virginia chapter of the ACLU and the filing of the suit was the culmination of years of work. Tierney was unavailable for comment because he is currently serving seven years for possession of child pornography. The plaintiffs, who include Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, released a statement saying, "Christianity is the source of most if not all of the suffering in the world. The federal government recognizing this holiday is akin to celebrating holidays lauding the Holocaust. Prefabricated man-made religions have no place in a civil society."

The suit will likely spark outrage from Christian and other conservative groups who will see this as another chapter in the left's "War on Christmas". Previous years have seen organizations targeting schools for Christmas plays and targeting cities for having nativity displays. The suit to end federal recognition of Christmas marks an escalation in the culture wars. Bill O'Reilly is said to be planning to devote ten minutes of his nightly news show every day until New Year's to air his grievances on the culture wars.

O'Reilly wasn't the only one to get in on the criticism. Pat Buchanan, a staple of Christian Conservatism was quick to blame the "radical left" and Hollywood: "Who is in your face here? Who started this? Who is on the offensive? Who is pushing the envelope? The answer is obvious. A radical Left aided by a cultural elite that detests Christianity and finds Christian moral tenets reactionary and repressive is hell-bent on pushing its amoral values and imposing its ideology on our nation. The unwisdom of what the Hollywood and the Left are about should be transparent to all."

Critics were quick to point out that one of the plaintiffs, Paul Addis, was recently arrested trying to burn down a church. This only fanned the argument that this suit was truly about censoring religion and not about pluralism.

It is unclear exactly how the courts will rule in this case; however, both judges in San Francisco and the appellate judges in the Ninth Circuit would likely favor the view that recognizing Christmas as a federal holiday and closing the government is a tacit endorsement of Christianity which is prohibited by the "Separation of Church and State Doctrine".

Most legal scholars believe that the ACLU's argument has merit and if the same standard is used that has been used in previous church-state cases that Christmas will have to be removed from the list of federal holidays. Time will tell if the ACLU will become known as the law firm "that stole Christmas".

John Bambenek is the Assistant Politics Editor for BC Magazine and is an academic professional for the University of Illinois. By trade, he is an information security professional, part of the Internet Storm Center and a courseware author and certification grader for the GIAC family of security certifications. He is a syndicated columnist who blogs at Part-Time Pundit and the executive director of The Tumaini Foundation which helps AIDS orphans and other children in Tanzania to get an education.

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