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December 02, 2013 4:40 PM Lively Experiment, Unlively Journalism

By Ed Kilgore

So in holiday news, RI Gov. Linc Chafee, beset with protests by people (probably including some Bill O’Reilly viewers) unhappy with his and his immediate predecessors’ designation of an official state seasonal tree as a “holiday tree,” and also bending to the Rhode Island Christmas Tree Growers Association, threw up his hands and said he’d call it a “Christmas Tree” this year.

In doing so, Chafee said:

“Because I do not think how we address the State House tree affects our ‘lively experiment,’ this year’s invitation calls the tree a Christmas tree.”

The governor was alluding to the language of Rhode Island’s original 1663 Royal Charter which made the colony a refuge for those avowing the radical ideas of self-government and of strict separation of church and state, with the latter being the particular obsession of the community’s generally recognized founder, Roger Williams.

So Chafee was acknowledging the state’s special heritage of respect (a religiously based respect, BTW; Williams is also universally considered the founder of the Baptist tradition in America) for church-state separatism even as he arguably violated it.

I mention this in case you happened to have read Lucy McCalmont’s account of the story, which not only entirely misses the historical context but adds a little conservative agitprop:

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee is attempting to end the war on Christmas in his state once and for all….
In 2011, Chafee’s aim for political correctness and to be “respectful of everyone” by calling the spruce a “holiday tree” drew protesters during the holiday tree-lighting ceremony. The governor was also labeled a “Grinch” by one state legislator, and a competing Christmas tree-lighting ceremony was held. At the time, Chafee’s office reportedly received some 3,500 calls on the decision.

So originally, ol’ Linc wasn’t honoring his state’s ancient traditions (civil and religious), but was waging a “war on Christmas,” which he’s calling off now that he knows it’s a mistake to be “politically correct.”

O’Reilly couldn’t have said it better, or more ignorantly.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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