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ABC News’ Christiane Amanpour: Not your ordinary Christmases

Christmas has unique memories for international journalist Christiane Amanpour, the ABC News Global Affairs Anchor. As a small child, she remembers wonderful times, “my family with a Christmas tree and presents and a family gathering.”

Christiane Amanpour in Egypt. Photo by Shawn Baldwin, ABC News

But her father was Muslim. Her mother was Catholic. They lived in Iran. Little Christiane grew up in a clash of worlds – yet it was quieter than today. “We had Christmas off from school, but,” she notes, “remember, Iran was not yet an Islamic republic.”

During her childhood, the former Persian Empire was one of the most diverse, modern and secular Islamic nations of the Cold War era, led by an iron-fisted dictator whose family had been put in power by the CIA and was one of America’s top allies – the controversial Shah of Iran.

Amanpour – now a regular on the ABC nightly news as well as Chief International Correspondent for CNN and the nightly host of her own interview program on CNN International – remembers an Iran vastly different in the 1960s and 1970s from today’s terror-exporting, nuke-developing Islamic republic whose president annually vows before the United Nations to destroy both Israel and the United States as he ushers in Armageddon and welcomes the return of the Hidden Imam – Shi’ite Islam’s child Messiah.

“We had a Christmas tree, we decorated, we had Christmas celebration,” she recalls. Is observance of the holiday tolerated in today’s rigid Iranian Islamic society? “It may not be open and allowed,” she admits, “but in the privacy of your own home, you do what you will.”

Did her very Christian-sounding first name cause problems as a child? After all, “Christiane” is not at all Iranian nor Islamic.

“It really didn’t,” she says. “My mother is Catholic, my father Muslim and so I’ve grown up with both faiths – and I happen to be married to a man who’s Jewish. So, I have all three faiths running right through my immediate family. It taught me tolerance. It taught me that all three faiths can exist together because we have so much in common.”

Today as Iranian-built rockets pound Israeli neighborhoods, as Israeli helicopter gunships rain death and destruction on Gaza, as civil war rages just miles away in Syria and Iran’s leaders are blamed for Continued on page 2

Who’s winning the war on Christmas?

A Los Angeles-area retirement center was briefly the center of the annual war against Christmas when employees tossed out a Christmas tree, menorahs and anything else festive, declaring them to be prohibited religious symbols.

Kids perform a traditional Christmas pageant

Meanwhile an elementary school banned children from the audience of its Christmas show — put on by children — and a Hawaiian atheist was gleeful that he’s blocked public school children from raising $30,000 for a Christian charity.

The nursing home ban provoked a nationwide outcry on Twitter and Facebook as well as denunciations from politicians and civil rights activists. Two dozen 80-year-old residents received 15 minutes of fame when they gathered in the lobby of The Willows retirement center with a hand-lettered sign pleading “please save our tree.” In the glare of TV cameras, the octogenarians asked the nurses to quit behaving like Scrooge.

“We’re all angry. We want that tree,” Fern Scheel told the Daily News. She has lived at the complex for nearly two years. “Where’s our freedom? This is ridiculous.”

Residents were furious over the tree ban

Jewish resident Frances Schaeffer said she couldn’t understand the nursing home’s attitude. “This tree is a symbol of reverence that we can all enjoy regardless of our religious beliefs,” she said.

Max Greenis who has lived at the complex for a year with his wife, Bonnie, said he was considering withholding his rent in protest.  “I’ve got grandkids and they come here and now they’ll ask, `Grandpa, where’s the Christmas tree?’ Then I’ll have to explain that someone said we couldn’t have one. What kind of message is that sending to the kids?”

“For some folks this is the only Christmas tree they’ll have all season,” resident Robert Troudeau said. “There are people overseas fighting for our freedoms and dying and we’re here fighting over things like this. It’s a shame.”

Embarrassed, the owners of the retirement complex, the multi-state JB Partners Group Inc., issued a terse statement to the press that the tree’s removal was the result of “a miscommunication,” according to the Sacramento Bee newspaper. The tree has now been restored.

Meanwhile in Yorkshire, England, parents were aghast when the local school banned children from the audience during its annual Christmas pageant, according to the Daily Mail.

No siblings will be in the pageant audience

In a letter to parents, Eldwick Primary School’s head teacher Janice Kershaw decreed that children and babies “will not be allowed in the concert because any background noise could make it difficult to hear the performers.” She also cited vague “fire regulations” – although the school has never had to restrict attendance in years past.

As a result, siblings were barred from watching each other perform traditional holiday music and skits. That infuriated mom Melanie Whitehead – who called it ridiculous that little sister Scarlett Whitehead and brother Samuel would not get to watch big brother Miles sing carols with his class. She branded the school “anti-children.” Likewise, Scarlett and Samuel will also be stopped from enjoying each others’ performances in a later Christmas concert.

“It all just doesn’t seem very Christmassy does it?” asked the mom. “Just seems a bit mean. People just want to enjoy Christmas. There is a line you draw and sometimes a teacher or a school thinks they are in charge completely. Children should be allowed in and if they make a noise, the parent can take them out or a teacher can then say take him out. You can’t just take the decision out of their hands, no kids in case they make any noise. Its makes no sense to me.”

Meanwhile in Hawaii, a militant atheist was expressing Grinch-like glee after he successfully blocked the local high school from holding a Christmas benefit expected to raise $30,000.

High schoolers blocked from raising $30,000

“Moanalua High School students in the award-winning orchestra have proudly raised $200,000 over the last 6 years through their annual holiday concert,” reported the Hawaii Reporter.

“These students, who have performed at Carnegie Hall in New York three times, don’t keep the money to buy new instruments, travel abroad or help their school. Instead, they send $30,000 they raise every year overseas to a well-known charity, Mercy Ships, which is currently housing American doctors in Africa on a medical mission. These doctors help the poorest of residents – some who have never seen a doctor – with urgent medical and dental needs.

“It is the students’ gift to the world during the holidays and their chance to make difference for others in need.”

However, the concert has been cancelled and atheist Mitch Kahle, founder of Hawaii Residents for Separation of Church and State, is proudly taking credit.

“The seventh annual fundraiser was set for this weekend, and students have been practicing for months to ensure their performance was perfect,” said the Reporter. However Kahle, “who has shown up to protest city hall Christmas tree lighting ceremonies as well as city council hearings and legislative events where there is prayer, has turned up as their Christmas Grinch and put a stop to the kids’ best-laid plans just hours before the show.”

Honolulu talk show host Michael W. Perry lamented what he called “an unfortunate situation in which one person writing one letter to the Department of Education has disrupted a $30,000 fundraiser going on for 6 years now, and for what reason? He claims the Constitution says there can be no involvement with school and church and there is no such statement in the Constitution.”

Donalyn Dela Cruz, director of Communications for the education department, confirmed the decision to cancel the concert was made after they received Kahle’s letter and consulted the state attorney general’s office.

Kahle has protested the police department using the words “so help me God” in their oath of office, according to the Reporter, and got the Honolulu Police Department to remove the words from the oath in September 2002. On his web site, Kahle proclaims proudly under a cartoon poking fun at the police, that ‘God Gets the Boot!’”

“I guess it is not a career enhancing move to have your government agency sued, because you stood up to this guy, but someone needs to,” said KSSK’s Perry. “The DOE is in ‘duck and cover mode’ because of one guy and one letter. There are all kinds of organizations that would be happy to take him on and win. But he wins because they quickly capitulate. It is infuriating, this one little gnat keeps buzzing around. That one person who just uses threats can get his way and stop something that will really help people in need.”

Kids singing … a threat to atheists?

Nevertheless, the predictably liberal Huffington Post took delight in comedian Jon Stewart’s annual lampooning of any idea that there might be any war on Christmas.

“Stewart’s mockery of it stays fresh year after year,” gushed the Post. “On Monday night’s ‘The Daily Show,’ Stewart tore apart” Fox News’ ”yearly obsession with defending the holiday.” In that segment, Stewart claimed the Fox staff doesn’t “seem as enthusiastic” about reporting on attacks on Christmas as in years past.

Such a report seemed odd since Fox was energetically spotlighting nationwide attacks on the holiday with headlines such as:

  • “Militant Secularists Lose Battle to Oust Nativity Scene,”
  • “City Blocks Salvation Army Bell Ringers Over Panhandling Ban,”
  • “College Reverses Christmas Tree Ban,”
  • “Rhode Island Statehouse Tree Lighting to Be Held After All,”
  • “War on Christmas Erupts in Illinois,”
  • “Christmas Tree Replaced With ‘Electric Winter Tree’”
  • “Despite Ban, Virginia Rep Wants You to Have a Merry CHRISTMAS! (And a Happy HANUKKAH, Too!),”
  •  “U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Pays Homage to Obama – But Not Jesus,”
  • “UNICEF Smears Santa as ‘One Percenter’,”
  • “Thousands Rally to Save Nativity,”
  • “School Reinstates Nativity, Vows to Fight Possible Lawsuit,”
  • “Poll: 51% Prefer ‘Merry Christmas’ in Advertising” and
  • “Atheist Display Replaces Nativity Scene in Santa Monica.”

An unexpected target this year is the cartoon character Charlie Brown — who apparently has fallen into disfavor with atheists. 

Fox News looks at Charlie Brown ban

That’s right, Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown, the theatrical adaptation of a Peanuts holiday cartoon children and families have enjoyed for years,” reports Dave Bohon, ”is under attack from an atheist group that caught wind that an elementary school in Little Rock, Arkansas, was going to take some of its students to see the play at a local church.”

According to the Christian Post, teachers at Little Rock’s Terry Elementary School sent a letter home warning parents that the play at nearby Agape Church might “expose your child to Christianity,” so “if you prefer your child to not attend the program, they may stay at school.”

The stage version of “A Charlie Brown Christmas”

“While the musical’s storyline, which finds Peanuts mainstay Charlie Brown in search of the true meaning of Christmas, can hardly be termed an overt promotion of the Christian faith, it does include a scene in which Linus, another Peanuts regular, recites the Christmas story right out of the Gospel of Luke in an effort to shed light on the beginnings of the now-commercialized holiday,” reported Bohon:

“Predictably, a parent or two took exception to the school taking their children to a church, and complained to the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers, a state atheist group, which ludicrously warned the school district that the innocent field trip might in fact be a violation of the First Amendment’s supposed separation of church and state clause. “We’re not saying anything bad about Charlie Brown,” Anne Orsi, a spokesperson for the atheist group, assured local television station KARK. “The problem is that it’s got religious content and it’s being performed in a religious venue and that doesn’t just blur the line between church and state — it oversteps it entirely.” (The First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….”)

In a followup prepared statement Orsi said that she and her group weren’t “making war either on religion or Christmas. Rather, this is a case of a church forming an alliance with local government to violate religious freedom.”

The pastor of Agape Church, the Rev. Happy Caldwell, noted that his congregation had sponsored similar free, kid-friendly programs in the past with no backlash about religion or First Amendment concerns. “We hope the complaint or question of a few does not override the opportunity for everyone,” he offered in a statement. “This production also included a food drive for area pantries, and we hope that purpose is not lost as well.”

Matthew Staver of Liberty Counsel, a conservative legal advocacy group, insisted that the school had done nothing wrong in providing the opportunity for its students. “It’s perfectly constitutional for the school to afford students the opportunity to go to a Charlie Brown play,” he said, “especially when they don’t require it. It’s optional; parents can opt out.” He added that no one has “the legal right to stop the school and the rest of the parents from participating in this program.”

High schoolers in a Yuletide Madrigal play

“The war on Christmas is actually bigger than partisan tomfoolery and isn’t limited to right-wing fantasy, either,” observed Oxford University historian Timothy Stanley in a special column for CNN. “Some of it exposes genuine tensions within American politics and society.”

Stanley writes for Britain’s Daily Telegraph.

“Take the decision of the Santa Monica City Council to end the tradition of erecting nativity scenes or other displays in Palisades Park,” he noted in his CNN column. “The right to display a scene was hitherto decided by lottery, and the previous winter season atheists won 11 out of 14 spaces, which they used to erect enormous critiques of Christianity.

“In response, locals lobbied the council to establish stricter guidelines about who could take part. The council decided that would be discriminatory, but it also didn’t want to leave the system open to abuse by more offensive groups like neo-Nazis. So it decided the displays would have to stop altogether. That decision was upheld in November by a federal judge.

“The local secularists were thrilled,” noted Stanley. “‘The free thinkers … played the game of the religionists and they outsmarted them,’ Annie Laurie Gaylor told the Huffington Post. ‘They showed the Christian people of the city what it feels like to have a public park promoting views that offend your personal conscience. These views were on public property that were supposed to be owned equally by everyone.’”

A live nativity at Santa Monica

However, several local churches have found a loophole in the local law and now are staffing a live nativity scene with church members. The atheists are furious, but local Christians are taking turns standing vigil in traditional pageant costumes — bathrobes for the shepherds and homemade royal finery for the Wise Men – over the Baby Jesus along with live cattle, donkeys and sheep.

“This story,” wrote Stanley, “is a classic example of the failure to reconcile different interests within a democratic society. Nobody involved was technically wrong. The secularist campaigners were right to say that the nativity displays should be open to everyone because they were on public land. Their Christian opponents were right to insist that anything erected to celebrate Christmas ought to give some priority to celebrating Christmas. And the council was right that, in the absence of consensus, it was better to allow no displays at all. The tragedy being that Gaylor’s campaign ended up destroying a perfectly wonderful tradition in the name of fairness. And that hardly seems fair.

A live nativity on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court

“What’s really happening,” noted Stanley, “isn’t just a targeted, political war on Christmas but a more general battle for control of what goes on in the public sphere, especially around the holidays. Undoubtedly, some of this is motivated by anti-religious secularism. But it’s also the product of living in a crowded multicultural environment where everyone risks getting on each other’s nerves — and we have to find better ways of getting along.”

Jamie Foxx declares Obama “Lord & Savior”

Why would actor Jamie Foxx startle the Soul Train Music Award audience over the Thanksgiving weekend by urging them to “first of all, give an honor to God — and our Lord and Savior, Barack Obama!”

Jamie Foxx, from a promo of his cancelled TV show

Why would a stand-up comedian commit what until recently over the last 2,000 years was regarded as “blasphemy” – and on national TV? Well, for one thing, shock works so well on TV. Viewers aren’t startled anymore by any of the old cuss words — all that’s left is “the F-bomb” and it’s been used far too often by those desperate for attention.

So, let’s try blasphemy! Don’t restrict it just to muttering “Jesus Christ” derisively. No, your acting career is spiraling downward. You’re not such a big name on the Hollywood party circuit anymore with no big hit in years. Your last films have tanked. Directors’ worries about your fading talent have reduced you to accepting roles in forgettable sequels and hosting a radio show. So, what do you do?

Hey, suggests your agent, what if I can get you on nationwide TV? What if you do something so outrageous that nobody can ignore you? How about nudity? Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” on the Super Bowl breathed brief life back into her lackluster career!

What about blasphemy! Hey, yeah! The conservatives and religious right will go nuts!

In Hollywood, the unpardonable sin is to be boring. So, if you’re frantic to scratch your way back onto the A list, you do something outrageous: something so offensive that it guarantees your face on the front page of the tabloid websites and your name trending on Twitter and Yahoo – and, even better, a viral YouTube video with millions of movie-attending kids laughing at how hilarious you are. It’s even better if their parents are disgusted and infuriated.

That’s the apparent strategy last weekend of Eric Marlon Bishop – that’s Jamie Foxx’s real name. His acting career peaked in 2004 with Continued on Page 2

Did third-party candidates deny Romney the presidency? And where were the Christians?

In 2000, Green Party candidate Ralph Nader catapulted George W. Bush into the Oval Office by siphoning off 97,488 Florida votes that otherwise would have gone to Al Gore. As a result, Bush — heavily supported by evangelical Christians – won Florida and the Presidency by the slimmest of margins – 537 votes.

Ralph Nader

Back in 1992, H. Ross Perot gave the White House to Bill Clinton, drawing away enough discontented conservatives and Christians that George H.W. Bush lost and Clinton became President with only 43 percent of the popular vote. Almost a century before, Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party candidacy is credited with electing Woodrow Wilson.

Perot, if you remember, was a multi-billionaire who spent millions on his own candidacy. That didn’t work out very well for him nor in 2012 did it work for pro-wrestling tycoon Linda McMahon who spent $97 million of her personal fortune trying to become Connecticut’s junior U.S. Senator. 

H. Ross Perot

Maybe campaign-spending laws should change, says economist Glen Weyl, a professor at the University of Chicago. He says there are plenty of people who so vehemently want to see their candidate elected that they’d cast more than one ballot if they could. So why not let them? He has proposed a plan that would allow people to put their money where their mouths are by paying to vote as many times as they’d like. His system would require a voter to pay an increasing amount for each vote cast; the cost of each vote would be the square of the vote number. So your first vote would cost you just $1, the second vote would cost $4, the third $9, the fourth $16.

“So doubling or even tripling your weight at the polls would be relatively inexpensive,” writes Ross Kenneth Urken for Daily Finance. ”Go much beyond that and it starts to add up faster than you’d expect: For five votes, you’d pay a total of $55. For 10, a total of $385. Want to swing a small local election all by yourself? The hundredth vote, in this scenario, would cost you $10,000, but the 100 votes in total would run you a staggering $338,350. (Still, that’s easily within reach for men with names like Koch, Trump, or Buffet.)”

Obama and Romney spent around $1 billion each on advertising — much of it in the “battleground states,” appealing to swing voters — who waited until the last minute to decide how to vote. Even so, the election seemed marred by ambivalence — with many Christian voters joking that they voted holding their nose, picking the least objectionable candidate. Did the free flow of campaign money fail to remedy hard-core conservatives’ as well as diehard liberals’ ambivalence about their candidates?

In the end, did a wealth of third-party choices cause them to vote the equivalent of “None of the Above” by supporting neither Obama nor Romney — but instead some obscure third-party candidate?In Florida, an absence of third-party candidates could have made a dramatic difference for Romney. There Obama beat him by only 46,061. If all everyone who supported a third-party candidate had instead voted for Romney, the Republican candidate would have won the Sunshine State by 24,892 votes.

That would have gained Romney 29 votes in the Electoral College for a total of 235 – still 35 short of the 270 needed to win.

Could he have picked up more Electoral College votes in other battleground states had there been no third-party candidates? In Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Jersey, Virginia and Illinois, third-party candidates were active — campaigning on a variety of issues, including the legalization of marijuana, which was approved by Colorado and Washington State voters.

However, third-party candidates drew only small percentages of the vote in those states.

In Virginia, it had been feared that former U.S. Senator Virgil Goode’s Constitutional Party candidacy would leach off enough conservative votes to give the state’s Electoral College votes to Obama. However, Obama won the state’s 13 Electoral College ballots by  54,924 votes. Only 51,802 Virginians voted for all of the third-party candidates combined — close, but not enough to matter.

Virgil Goode

What about the other states that went for Obama? Had there been no third-party candidates, would there have been 35 more Electoral College votes to put Romney over the top? 

In California, the President won by 59.2 percent with 5,554,499 votes. Romney garnered only 3,613,339 votes. If he’d had every one of the Third Party candidates’ 219,425 votes, it would have made no difference.  The same is true in all of the “battleground” states as well as smaller states which went for Obama: Oregon, Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maryland, Delaware and Minnesota.

So, if third-party candidates didn’t make the difference this time, who did? Most Americans tuned into Election Night coverage unsure of what to expect. In the early evening, everything appeared too close to call. All eyes were on those “battleground states” where “swing voters” were the target of millions of dollars of last-minute advertising. How did these all-important swing voters come to their final decisions?

Dr. David Riess, a practicing psychiatrist for 25 years and former medical director of Massachusetts’ Providence Hospital in Holyoke, says that an election can come down to those voters’ rationality in decision-making.

According to Dr. Riess, last-minute swing voter choose a candidate ”largely based upon emotional factors, based upon seeking a sense of Shared Omnipotence with their political idols, rather voting based upon an objective analytical consideration of the facts.” The majority of such late-deciding swing voters, he says, rely most heavily on irrational factors “which emerge out of the dysfunctional aspects of personality structures.” He finds that worrisome.

In years past, such voters got to choose from third-party candidates who were attractive since they seemed to have a chance.

No such third-party choices emerged this time. All the third-party candidates did poorly. At the last unofficial count, Green Party national candidate Jill Stein pulled only 98,000 or so votes nationwide. Comedienne Roseanne Barr, who campaigned on a platform that “the war on drugs is just plain crazy,” won about 10,000 votes. The outspoken Randall Terry, who served prison time in his quest to stop abortion, got 8,700 votes.

Third-party candidates Jill Stein, Rocky Anderson, Virgil Goode and Gary Johnson.

And Jeff Boss, who campaigned on the single issue that mysterious, shadowy government officials allowed the 9/11 attacks, received only 263 votes nationwide.

What happened to the Christian vote? Many evangelicals seemed to be sitting out the election, unexcited with either candidate’s past. Dr. Billy Graham at the last minute seemed to be leaning toward Romney — although he doesn’t endorse candidates — and just before the election removed an article on his website which for years has listed the reasons that Dr. Graham says Mormonism is a cult.

Absent during this election were the evangelical activists who elected Ronald Reagan. Many of them supported Sarah Palin in 2008 and voted for John McCain, about whom they were as ambivalent as they were this year about Romney.

Billy Graham

The day after the election, Christian author Russell Moore mused on his website:

“The American people have decided that Barack Obama should have a second term. And, behind them, in the mystery of providence, God has decided that Barack Obama would be re-elected. So how should Christians respond to our once and future President?

“Many of us have some disagreements with the President. As a conservative Christian, I believe unborn children have certain inalienable rights, including the right to life, and I wish President Obama would work to protect them. I believe freedom of conscience is the preeminent right in a civil society, and the Administration’s incursions on religious liberty are troubling. I don’t plan to back down one bit on these matters.

“We are going to disagree with the President on some (important) things; there will be other areas where we can work with the President. But whether in agreement or disagreement, we can honor. Honor doesn’t mean blanket endorsement.

“The Apostle Peter specifically calls the people of Christ not only to show submission to the emperor ‘as supreme’ but also to ‘governors’ (1 Peter 2:13-14). The Apostle Paul calls on the churches to pray and to show thanksgiving for ‘kings’ (plural) and for ‘all who are in high positions’ (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

“So let’s pray for President Obama. Let’s not give ourselves to terms of disrespect, or every crazy conspiracy theory that floats across the Internet.

“Let’s render unto Caesar, as free people with natural rights. Because we know as believers that we will eternally say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ we can as citizens temporally say, ‘Hail to the chief.’”

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