O'Reilly falsely claimed Falwell's group did not threaten suit over Boston "holiday" tree

››› ››› EVA HOWE

Bill O'Reilly falsely claimed that Liberty Counsel, a group Rev. Jerry Falwell founded, did not threaten to sue Boston in order to require the city to refer to a "Christmas" tree instead of a "holiday" tree.

On the December 5 broadcast of Fox News' The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly, host Bill O'Reilly defended Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder and chairman of the Moral Majority Coalition, claiming falsely that Liberty Counsel, a religious legal advocacy group Falwell founded, had not threatened to sue the city of Boston before Mayor Thomas M. Menino agreed to refer to the Boston holiday tree as a "Christmas tree." Responding to a caller who noted that there had been a threat to sue, O'Reilly asked, "Are you sure there was a lawsuit? I did not hear about a lawsuit. Did you -- are you sure?" Later O'Reilly said, "He didn't use the lawsuit, though. That's not fair. He didn't use the lawsuit."

In fact, Liberty Counsel did reportedly threaten to sue if Boston did not agree to its demand. During a December 1 Falwell appearance on Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson to discuss the matter, guest host David Asman suggested that Liberty Counsel had threatened to sue the city:

ASMAN: Well, a Christmas tree by any other name doesn't bring the holiday cheer in Boston. Their Christmas tree, which was briefly named the holiday tree until the city was threatened with a lawsuit, will light up tonight. Lawyers for the Liberty Counsel saying a Christmas tree shouldn't be called a holiday tree, just like a menorah shouldn't be called a candlestick. ... Reverend, you had a success in Boston, huh?

FALWELL: Well, that's just one area, and that is a minor thing. The idea is that if we are allowed to stand, it sends a signal across the country that the word "Christ," which is part of the word "Christmas," commemorating the birth of Christ is a bad word and should not be used. And it's just a continuation of the efforts of many to secularize this country and drive God from the public square.

In an November 25 article, The Boston Globe also noted that Liberty Counsel had threatened legal action. In the November 23 edition of its "Liberty Watch" newsletter, Liberty Counsel itself touted the victory in Boston and linked to an article from a Boston TV station that mentioned the threatened lawsuit. According to its website, Liberty Counsel seeks to advance "religious freedom, the sanctity of human life and the traditional family." The group has been involved in many of the various local Christmas disputes and operates a "Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign," which includes "free legal assistance by Liberty Counsel to individuals facing persecution for celebrating Christmas" and "a pledge to be the 'Friend' to those entities which do not discriminate against Christmas and a 'Foe' to those that do."

From the December 5 broadcast of Fox News' The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly:

CALLER: Hi, Bill. Are you aware that Jerry Falwell's group -- one of his groups -- threatened a lawsuit for the city of Boston for having a tree named the "holiday tree" instead of Christmas tree.

O'REILLY: Are you sure there was a lawsuit? I did not hear about a lawsuit. Did you -- are you sure?

CALLER: Well, that's what I have read. But I'm not --

O'REILLY: No, I think you're wrong, [caller]. What happened there, because we don't want propaganda, was that Boston Common put a tree that was historically named a Christmas tree. Some pinhead in the state office said, "no, it's going to be a holiday tree now." And Falwell and his group said to the city of Boston, "We'd like you to change it back to a Christmas tree." Whereupon the Mayor, Thomas Menino, did so. You got a problem with that, [caller]?

CALLER: No, I have no problem with that. But I read one of Falwell's own sites where he typed out he would use lawsuits. But I have no problem --

O'REILLY: He didn't use the lawsuit, though. That's not fair. He didn't use the lawsuit. He just -- his group contacted the Boston authorities and said, "We'd like you to change it back to Christmas." He's absolutely, perfectly entitled to do that. That's what democracy is all about. You shouldn't have a beef with that. Go ahead.

CALLER: -- decide. He didn't ask the people. The people of Boston weren't asked. It was an outside group. I don't have a problem with -- if you want to name it whatsoever, but there's no right to have a Christmas tree or to have a holiday tree. You have no constitutional right. It's up to the --

O'REILLY: The city of Boston -- the city of Boston has a right to name the tree whatever it wants to name the tree. I agree with you. The mayor of the town has said it's a Christmas tree. He's the elected leader of the town. It's a Christmas tree. End of story.

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