"Gunny" Bob: How the ACLU stole Christmas

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

During a recent broadcast of his Newsradio 850 KOA show, host "Gunny" Bob Newman falsely claimed that the American Civil Liberties Union was suing a Tennessee school over Christmas carols. He also erroneously suggested that the ACLU had "pick[ed] on" a homeowner at odds with a homeowners association over a peace symbol-shaped wreath.

On the November 28 broadcast of his Newsradio 850 KOA show, host "Gunny" Bob Newman falsely stated that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) "is suing an elementary school in Tennessee because of Christmas carols" and accused the ACLU of employing "tactics of hatred, of bigotry, of intolerance, and intimidation." Newman also falsely suggested that a Pagosa Springs homeowners association's opposition to a resident's peace symbol-shaped Christmas wreath was based on anti-Christian sentiment; in fact, the HOA reportedly considered the wreath "divisive" because it might be considered "an anti-Iraq war protest or even a promotion of Satan." And Newman falsely implied that the ACLU had "pick[ed] on" the homeowner who was battling the HOA over the wreath, when in fact she reportedly had said she might consider getting legal assistance from the ACLU.

Newman attacked the ACLU for supposedly using "tactics of hatred, of bigotry, of intolerance, and intimidation," while talking with guest Mike Johnson, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, which describes itself as "a servant organization that provides the resources that will keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel through the legal defense and advocacy of religious freedom, the sanctity of human life, and traditional family values." Johnson suggested that "radical secularist groups like the ACLU" favored "censoring Christmas," and Newman stated that the ACLU goes after "really vicious opponents like elementary schools."

JOHNSON: Frankly, it's ridiculous that Americans have to think twice about whether it's OK to celebrate Christmas in public, but, but here we are. You know, you can thank these radical secularist groups like the ACLU. And, they, they really have made Christmas something that it used not to be. It's -- you know, an overwhelming majority of Americans oppose censoring Christmas, but still they're -- they're up to their usual tricks.

NEWMAN: Well, because, you know, the ACLU's tactic is intimidation, and they -- they more often than not, far more often than not, they go after, you know, the, the really, the really vicious opponents like elementary schools.

JOHNSON: Yeah.

NEWMAN: Where the kids want to sing a Christmas carol with like, "Oh, they said 'baby Jesus.' Oh, mother of --!" You know, "They can't say that!" And the kids start bawlin' and -- and, and, you know. These are tactics of hatred, of bigotry, of intolerance, and intimidation. And it's organizations like the Alliance Defense Fund that goes to war with organizations like the ACLU.

Later in the show, a caller asked Newman about his reference to an elementary school, and Newman stated flatly that "the ACLU is suing an elementary school in Tennessee because of Christmas carols."

CALLER: What is this about the elementary school, Bob?

NEWMAN: Well, we had on somebody earlier in the show with the Alliance Defense Fund, which goes to battle against the ACLU. They're out to protect your religious rights and your First Amendment rights, your freedom of speech. And the ACLU is suing an elementary school in Tennessee because of Christmas carols.

Presumably, Newman was referring to the ACLU of Tennessee's September 27 lawsuit on behalf of two Wilson County parents who opposed a range of school-sponsored activities that, as stated in the ACLU of Tennessee's press release, "put pressure on students to engage in religious activities at Lakeview Elementary School":

NASHVILLE -- Acting on behalf of a Wilson County family, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee today asked a federal court to end practices by teachers and other officials that put pressure on students to engage in religious activities at Lakeview Elementary School.

The ACLU said it is bringing the lawsuit after repeated attempts by the family to end the school-sponsored religious activities, which they believe interfere with their right to religious freedom.

[...]

School administrators repeatedly disregarded the family's requests and continued to promote and sponsor activities like "Prayer at the Flag Pole" and "Praying Parents," whose members enter classrooms and tell students that they have prayed for them. Rather than taking the family's requests seriously, the school administrators encouraged the family to withdraw their child from the school.

In the lawsuit, the ACLU of Tennessee argues that the pattern and practice of promoting and endorsing religious activities by the Wilson County public school system is unconstitutional. In addition to "Praying Parents" and "Prayer at the Flag Pole," the Wilson County school system promotes a range of religious activities, including a National Day of Prayer event and teacher-led classroom prayers, according to the lawsuit.

A September 29 article about the lawsuit in The Tennessean of Nashville contained no mention of Christmas carols. The article did, however, note that, according to the ACLU's lawsuit, Lakeview Elementary "observed 'National Day of Prayer' by holding a competition for students to draw posters promoting the day, handing out stickers that said 'I prayed' to students who'd participated and encouraging students to link up for the day with 'prayer buddies.' " The article also reported:

ACLU attorney Eddie Schmidt said he did not object to religious events that took place on school grounds before or after the school day, as long as they did not involve the endorsement and promotion by school officials. Some of these events, however, did take place during school hours and established a pattern and practice of endorsing not only religion, but a particular version of Christianity, ACLU attorneys said.

The same caller to Newman's show also mentioned the controversy in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, in which, as the Associated Press reported November 27, the Loma Linda Homeowners Association, or HOA, ordered homeowner Lisa Jensen to take down a Christmas wreath shaped like a peace sign. According to the AP, the HOA's president, Bob Kearns, was concerned that the sign might represent an anti-Iraq war protest or a promotion of Satan:

In a town in scenic southwestern Colorado homeowners are battling over whether a Christmas wreath that includes a peace sign is an anti-Iraq war protest or even a promotion of Satan.

"We have had three or four complaints. Some people have kids in Iraq and they are sensitive," said Bob Kearns, president of the Loma Linda Homeowners Association in Pagosa Springs. He also said some believe it is a symbol of Satan.

Responding to the caller, Newman made another apparent reference to the ACLU, claiming, "I mean, you know, they go after elementary schools. They pick on little Lisa Jensen down there ... in the Loma Linda subdivision of Pagosa Springs." Newman further stated that, "because of that pressure from us who were right on the issue, now Lisa can have her peace-shaped -- peace symbol-shaped -- Christmas wreath."

On November 26, The Durango Herald noted that, contrary to Newman's suggestion, "Jensen said she may consider legal action through the American Civil Liberties Union."

From the November 28 broadcast of Newsradio 850 KOA's The Gunny Bob Show:

JOHNSON: Frankly, it's ridiculous that Americans have to think twice about whether it's OK to celebrate Christmas in public, but, but here we are. You know, you can thank these radical secularist groups like the ACLU. And, they, they really have made Christmas something that it used not to be. It's -- you know, an overwhelming majority of Americans oppose censoring Christmas, but still they're -- they're up to their usual tricks.

NEWMAN: Well, because, you know, the ACLU's tactic is intimidation, and they -- they more often than not, far more often than not, they go after, you know, the, the really, the really vicious opponents like elementary schools.

JOHNSON: Yeah.

NEWMAN: Where the kids want to sing a Christmas carol with like, "Oh, they said 'baby Jesus.' Oh, mother of --!" You know, "They can't say that!" And the kids start bawlin' and -- and, and, you know. These are tactics of hatred, of bigotry, of intolerance, and intimidation. And it's organizations like the Alliance Defense Fund that goes to war with organizations like the ACLU.

JOHNSON: Well, and we have to do that. It's an important war, because ultimately it's our religious freedom that's at stake. And, you know, the battle for religious liberty goes on 365 days a year, but it happens to be highlighted, you know, this time, during Christmas time, in particular.

[...]

CALLER: I don't know if you caught Paul Harvey today?

NEWMAN: I did not.

CALLER: If his figures are right -- if I remember 'em right -- he said that 85 percent of the population in this country proclaim to be Christian.

NEWMAN: Mmm-hmm.

CALLER: 96 percent of the population celebrate Christmas.

NEWMAN: Mmm-hmm.

CALLER: Well, I add to that, if those numbers are correct, isn't it amazing how such a little number like the ACLU and HOAs and that --

NEWMAN: Right.

CALLER: -- get into the news so, so easily?

NEWMAN: Yes! And, and how their tactics are what help them -- helps them get into the news. I mean, you know, they go after elementary schools. They pick on little Lisa Jensen down there --

CALLER: Right --

NEWMAN: -- in the, you know, in the Loma Linda subdivision of Pagosa Springs. You know, they try this kind of, of crap. And fortunately, we've got shows like The Gunny Bob Show and many of the other talk radio news analyst-type guys all over the place -- and gals -- all over the place. And we've got some cable news shows that approach this. And news websites and blogs. And the word got out real quick on this. And because of that pressure from us who were right on the issue, now Lisa can have her peace-shaped -- peace symbol-shaped -- Christmas wreath.

CALLER: What is this about the elementary school, Bob?

NEWMAN: Well, we had on somebody earlier in the show with the Alliance Defense Fund, which goes to battle against the ACLU. They're out to protect your religious rights and your First Amendment rights, your freedom of speech. And the ACLU is suing an elementary school in Tennessee because of Christmas carols.

CALLER: Oh --

NEWMAN: And, I mean that's just typical -- you know, the ACLU is not happy unless they can make small children cry.

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