Here's the column that I wrote, published in the @WestLinnTidings yesterday and complimented by the Mayor of West Linn himself.

A very merry free-thinking Christmas

Christmas is my favorite time of year. Our family celebrates the holiday the same way most families do: we get together, reminisce about the past year, eat delicious ham, and exchange gifts. It’s a beautiful holiday for the unity and generosity it awakens in all of us.

For context: my family is nonreligious.

Yes, we are a family of agnostics, atheists and freethinkers, and we celebrate Christmas. In fact, we adore Christmas. The only difference between our way of celebrating Christmas and many other families’ ways of celebrating Christmas is that we do not celebrate the religious aspect of the holiday. We acknowledge it, but it’s not why we celebrate. The true meaning of Christmas, to us, is the joy of giving and sharing time with loved ones.

This will never invalidate what your true meaning of Christmas is.

I am incredibly thankful to live in a country founded on religious freedom. I can choose to celebrate a holiday any way I want – or not at all. I can choose to believe any faith I want – or none at all. And whatever I celebrate or believe, I will not be persecuted or arrested. America is very religiously diverse, and it’s a beautiful thing. You can believe what you want and I can believe what I want and we can trust each other.

Unfortunately, this trust is not entirely universal. I recently watched an ad released by Rick Perry’s campaign which said that we are in the midst of a “war on religion” and that Perry, if elected, will end it. He said LGBT citizens serving openly in the military is wrong because it goes against Christianity, kids should pray in schools, and “faith… can make [America] strong again.”

This ad appalled me. Faith may play an important role in our history, but we are made strong by our multitude of faiths, including the lack thereof. If we are to live in a country that values religious freedom and diversity, we must make sure our leaders are guided by the principles that all Americans value, not just the principles of one belief structure.

Perry seemed to say that my view of policy – or, indeed, of ethics – is invalid because I’m not religious, or Christian. That worries me. If Perry becomes President, will he use informal religious litmus tests when appointing officials? Will he pass initiatives attempting to make America more of a “Christian nation?” This is a frightening prospect. We are not now, nor have we ever been, a nation guided by one religion. We are a secular nation, and we need to take pride in that.

A statesman who insists that the national dialogue about religion must be limited to Christianity is no statesman at all.

We all have different beliefs and ways to celebrate the season of giving, but as Americans, we have shared values like respect and liberty that apply to us all. I may not agree with your belief structure, but I will always respect your right to believe it. Respect my right to believe what I believe in return.

I wish all of you a very merry Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Ashura, Yule, Festivus, Solstice… whatever you celebrate, be proud that you have a right to celebrate it. Let nobody take that from you. Because liberty, especially of the mind and spirit, is the greatest gift of all.

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