Charles Dickens could hardly have foreseen that his best-known character, Ebenezer Scrooge, would one day have an award named after him. “Each year,” explains the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, it “reflects on the most absurd affronts to the Christmas and Hanukah season, producing a list of outrageous offenders and handing the most scandalous holiday season transgressor a present worse than coal itself: The Ebenezer Award.” This year it went to King County—home to the city of Seattle—for its miserly restriction on holiday religious decorations.
A local news source pointed out the resulting paradox: “You can celebrate LGBT Pride and wear a Black Lives Matter button throughout your day as a King County employee. But you better not show a nativity set or menorah on your digital workspace or your home office.” As Becket commented,
While images of snowflakes, wreaths, and pine trees are still permissible, the… King County HR department has made it its mission to erase religious emblems from the online workplace this holiday season…. The government has no right to rob its employees of holiday cheer by forcing them to take down their nativity sets and menorahs, particularly in their own homes.
That weighty word “right” points to the critical fact that religious liberty is a gift not from government but from God, and its protection has been the keystone of the American republic from the beginning. The acknowledgment in the Declaration of Independence of mankind’s Creator-endowed “unalienable Rights” was no mere rhetoric, as seen in General George Washington’s statement at the successful conclusion of the war and shortly before resigning as commander-in-chief.
The establishment of Civil and Religious Liberty was the Motive which induced me to the Field; the object is attained, and it now remains to be my earnest wish and prayer, that the Citizens of the United States would make a wise and virtuous use of the blessings, placed before them.
Years later when concluding his service as the nation’s chief executive, President Washington in his Farewell Address again spoke of religion.
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them.
Washington’s revered name continues to echo throughout America, adorning everything from streets and schools to plazas and buildings, communities and companies, and even the state that includes King County. But his name alone is not enough to shield us from disaster if we ignore what he said about the indispensable role of religion. As religious liberty comes under increasing attack, the Becket Fund’s voice must not be as one crying in the wilderness but rather part of a swelling chorus of patriots rising up to defend what the Founders themselves defended—our freedom to worship Him who endowed us with that sacred right.