Religion and Politics in the US

Welcome to RelPol, a student peer reviewed online magazine. This magazine is part of the assessment for the module "In God We Trust" @ the University of Hull.

Christmas Cheer and the Separation of Church and State… the Huckabee way

Former Republican presidential candidate and earlier Baptist minister Mike Huckabee released a campaign advert in December 2007 that sparked controversy within the US as Americans saw presidential campaigns seep onto their television screens. Huckabee’s questionably sincere Christmas message was far from a classically neutral ‘happy holidays’ that most candidates would have gone for, instead saying ‘God bless and happy Christmas’ to the Iowa residents, where the television advert debuted.

It is important to mention at this point that the Establishment clause plays a large part in why Huckabee’s words are very inappropriate at the time in which he said them. The ‘Separation of Church and State’ is something within America that is taken seriously and as this example proves, when politics and religion do mix, it perhaps does not settle nicely on the pallets of Huckabee’s fellow Americans. Although this Christmas wish can be taken lightly, it is the underlying political agenda that was brought to the attention of television watchers in 2007. With mentioning “Christ” and “God” within the advertisement, the former Baptist minister may have been trying to stir the conservative evangelical Christians who were drawn to him, while instantaneously drawing unstated contrast with his closest rival at the time, Mitt Romney. Romney, as part of the church of Jesus Christ latter day saints, had trouble gaining votes at the time of the presidential election from evangelist Christians. Common knowledge tells us that Mormons are not considered a part of orthodox Christianity, so when Huckabee is shown on television, being a Christian himself, it would be thought that he would automatically gain the vote of the evangelist Christians within Iowa.

A quote from Ronald Reagan highlights the issues being mentioned here; “Christmas can be celebrated in the school room with pine trees, tinsel and reindeers, but there must be no mention of the man whose birthday is being celebrated. One wonders how a teacher would answer if a student asked why it was called Christmas.” [1] This is an example of the attitudes towards Christmas in America as most people choose to use ‘Happy Holidays’ instead of mention Christmas altogether. For most onlookers that aren’t aware of the American ways during this time of year, it may seem strange to celebrate a holiday that is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, but not see it in a religious sense. One could argue that the meaning of Christmas in the 21st century, in general, is lost in a society where consumerism is king resulting in the religious connotations diminishing.

A separation of democrats and republicans is clear in the Christmas period; with Mike Huckabee being a republican, suggests for him to say ‘Merry Christmas’ would be common to be heard from a republican, whereas democrats are more likely to use the neutral term ‘Happy Holidays’. When considering this, are Huckabee’s words offensive or out of turn? Putting aside the political agenda here, as a Republican presidential candidate and former Baptist minister it is likely that his message was to be centred round the Christian celebration of Jesus Christ. Perhaps, Huckabee at the time he broadcast the message, was seen to be using his religion as a way of gaining votes against his opponent Romney. This, of course, isn’t lightly looked upon, an interesting quote from the book ‘Separation of Church and State’ by Phillip Hamburger highlights this issue; “Ironically, even as religion has been separated from politics, politics has become, in a sense, religious. Although this peculiar development has had many causes, including a general secularization, it surely is no coincidence that many of the very groups that have sought to exclude churches from politics have pursued their political goals by appealing to religious passions and aspirations”[2] The latter part of this quote is relevant in mentioning that political leaders would use religious advantages to gain votes, this could be said for Huckabee an many thought this was his agenda.

As we are coming up to the Christmas period it is worthwhile considering other countries and their culture when it comes to the holiday period, America and its stance on the ‘politically correct Christmas’ is something which is fruitful in culture and debate alike. As we look back to 2007 where Mike Huckabee caused a fuss with his Christian Christmas message (who would’ve thought it?), it aroused the subject of the separation of church and state and just how much of a battle it is within the states. The republican and democratic separation also comes to light with this issue as different political parties choose which holiday greeting is best suited to their plight. With this example from Mike Huckabee, the timing in which he chose to stir the political and religious debate seemed to be just right – in the midst of a presidential campaign, the television message broadcast in Iowa was bound to gain the votes of evangelist Christians with the opposing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter day saints, Romney.





[2] Hamburger, Philip, and Philip Hamburger. Separation of church and state. Harvard University Press, 2009.


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This entry was posted on December 3, 2014 by in Vol 2, 2014/15 and tagged , , , .
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