WASHINGTON, D.C, December 22, 2009 -- Both houses of Congress passed the Freedom From Religion Act last night just in time to adjourn for what is now being called the Winter Solstice recess. President Hillary Rodham Clinton says she will sign the bill "as soon as it gets to my desk."
"This is historic legislation," she said in a statement. "It finally clears up the confusion and controversy over the place of religion in modern America and it spells out the details that make separation of church and state such an important part of our Constitution."
The bill goes into effect as soon as it is signed and, when Congress returns in January, some of the legislation's effects will be felt on Capitol Hill. For example, there will be no more chaplains in either Senate or House, and daily sessions will no longer begin with a prayer. By law, Congress will now expunge the word "Christmas" from its vocabulary. The bill denotes that the federal holiday heretofore described as "Christmas Day" will henceforth be called "Winter Solstice Holiday."
"If we had not made this change, non-Christians might have had to work on what was essentially a religious holiday," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
In the military, members of the chaplain corps will be reassigned to non-religious duties, with the exception of Muslims. "They are a special case," said Senator Ted Kennedy.
The sweeping legislation will make life easier for town and school administrators. Nativity scenes and crosses are prohibited on public property; however, miniature minarets and statues of Gaia, the Earth Mother, are permitted. representing what the bill describes as "cultural diversity." There will be no more Santa Clauses allowed in town festivities because, as Pelosi put is, "He is based upon a Third Century Middle Eastern nobleman who dispensed gifts and later became St. Nicholas, clearly a religious figure." During the "holiday" or "Winter Solstice" season (either term is permissible) school children may not sing any songs with the word "Christmas" in them. "'Kumbaya' is okay as are such things as 'Om mane patme hum' [a Tibetan prayer chant]," said Pelosi, because they don't imply that the season is a Christian one.
Referring to the provision of the bill that drops "In God We Trust" from U.S. currency and the nationwide removal of "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance, Michael Newdow said, "This is the culmination of a long battle for equal rights under the law." Mr. Newdow, who gained fame in 2002 when he successfully pursued, in the 9th Federal District Court, a suit to prohibit "under God" from the Pledge, is today chairman of Atheists Working For Unlimited License (AWFUL).
The group's spokesman, Jonathan Selldog said, "For years, we had to endure being offended and intimidated because we were not part of the majority. Now, instead of being offended, we can be offensive."
What is next on AWFUL's agenda? Mr. Selldog says they will now go after the "outrageous proposition" that churches are tax exempt and receive tax-deductible contributions. "This means that those of us who do not believe in their superstitions are forced to subsidize their cult-like activities. We contend this is unconstitutional and we are going to ask the American Civil Liberties Union to take our case" he added.
"The Freedom From Religion Act gets religion off the streets, out of sight and into the churches where it belongs," said Sally Ecular, spokeswoman for the ACLU. "Getting it off the public dole is the next step," she added.
Ms. Ecular went on: "We haven't decided what to do about the Salvation Army people on public streets in front of department stores during the holiday season or the Boy Scouts who meet in church basements and community halls,. We definitely want the first off the streets and the second out of those places, but we'll wait to see the regulations that are written to flesh out the bill."
The bill was not without opposition. Former President George W. Bush said, "This is a sad day for America. Our founders all believed in God; about ninety percent of our citizens do to this day. Christians make up a great majority of those. We also honor other religions. But the growing secularization of Christmas -- a Christian event--has been driven by the atheists. Here is a case where a tiny group, pretending to be 'offended,' is pushing everyone else around. It's a case of the tail wagging the dog."
The Associated Press reported today that Mary Mulligan, a parishioner at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, insisted that she saw the statue of the Virgin Mary weep.