Save Christmas: Send money

Times Staff Writer

The “War on Christmas” has never been so profitable.

For the fourth year running, conservative Christian groups have spent much of December mobilizing against what they see as a liberal plot to censor Christmas.

But this year, it’s more than a cause. It’s a heck of a fundraiser.

The American Family Assn., a conservative activist group, has rung up more than $550,000 in sales of buttons and magnets stamped with the slogan “Merry Christmas: It’s Worth Saying.”


Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit law firm affiliated with the religious right, has taken in more than $300,000 with its Help Save Christmas Action Packs. The kits include two buttons, two bumper stickers and “The Memo that Saved Christmas,” a guide to defending overt religious expression, such as a Nativity scene in a public school classroom.

Also for sale through conservative websites: Christmas bracelets, tree ornaments and lapel pins intended to send a defiant message to those who would turn December into a multicultural mush of “winter parties,” “seasonal sales” and “Happy Holidays” greetings.

Christmas warriors can also download -- for free -- lists that rank retailers as either “naughty” or “nice,” depending on how often their ads refer to Christmas rather than a generic holiday.

“You’re seeing people really wanting to take this battle forward,” said Mat Staver, the president of Liberty Counsel, based in Orlando, Fla.


With minimal advertising on Christian radio stations, Liberty Counsel rang up more than 12,000 orders for a glossy copy of the legal memo (which is also available online for free). The minimum donation to get an “action pack” was $25; many supporters kicked in more. Liberty Counsel also sold 8,000 buttons ($1 each), with slogans such as “I {heart} CHRISTmas.”

Staver’s conclusion: “A lot of people have strong feelings about Christmas.”

Apparently so. A Zogby International poll conducted last month found that 46% of Americans are offended when a store clerk greets them with “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” More than a third of the 12,800 adults surveyed said they had walked out of a store or resolved to avoid it in the future because the clerks didn’t show enough Christmas spirit.

“It’s the whole peace-on-earth and goodwill-toward-man thing. It lifts us up when people can say ‘Merry Christmas’ without worrying about whether it’s politically correct,” said Jennifer Giroux, a Cincinnati entrepreneur.


She began marketing rubber bracelets urging “Just Say ‘Merry Christmas’ ” last December; this season, she has sold more than 50,000, at $2 apiece. She plans to donate her profits to a Christian charity. “It’s never been about the money,” she said. “It’s about the message.”

But if the message can make money, so much the better.

Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Assn., said he was delighted with the revenue from “War on Christmas” merchandise, which supplemented the ministry’s $13-million annual budget. All 500,000 buttons and 125,000 magnets were sold out by early December. “It was very successful for us,” Wildmon said.

Liberty Counsel too rated the sale a success. “It did help with donations, but more than anything else, it helped with exposure,” said spokeswoman Robin Bryant. She said the group had added many names to its mailing list for future fund drives. “It just ballooned,” Bryant said.


In fact, the fundraising went so well that the religious right plans to branch out. Next up: the War on Easter.

Scouts for the American Family Assn., which is based in Tupelo, Miss., will keep a keen eye out for stores that promote “spring baskets” or “spring bonnets” instead of celebrating the Resurrection. The group already has laid in a stash of Easter buttons, featuring three gold crosses and the words “He Lives.” They’ll go on sale in early January.

Critics call such fundraising a scam that feeds on lies that the atheist left has a plot to undermine Christianity. “It’s too ridiculous,” said the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. “They’re raising money for a nonexistent war.”

Those on the front line, however, insist the war is very real -- and say wearing their Christmas buttons and bracelets is a morale boost in these last frantic shopping days. Strangers who spot the buttons flash smiles and thumbs-up, or approach to trade horror stories about chain stores that sell “holiday trees” and teachers who ban sacred songs from school concerts.


“I’ve hugged people I don’t even know,” said Dr. Sarah Brown, a physician in suburban Philadelphia.

Brown spent $200 this year for 100 lapel pins from the conservative Alliance Defense Fund. She put the pins, which declare “Merry Christmas -- it’s okay to say it,” in an envelope on her office door and invited patients to help themselves. “No sooner would I fill up the envelope than it was empty,” she said. “It must please God so much to see that there are still people who want to celebrate.”

Those not so keen on Christmas have fewer options for self-expression.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., sells “Happy Heathen” and “Friendly Neighborhood Atheist” T-shirts as well as bumper stickers that taunt believers with slogans such as “Nothing Fails Like Prayer.” But the only holiday-specific items are cards that proclaim: “Reason’s Greetings.”


“We put ‘Bah, Humbug’ on a card a few years ago, but it didn’t sell too well,” said Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “I think people were afraid to send it out.”