For the past few years Governor Lincoln Chafee (shown in photo) has refused to officially acknowledge the Christmas tree which stands every holiday season at the Statehouse. Insisting that the state's forefathers would have disapproved of Rhode Island sanctioning of a Christian holiday, Chafee took to referring to the Christmas tree as a “holiday tree” in order to enforce the First Amendment's so-called “separation of church and state.”
So Chafee's statement this year announcing the lighting of the state's official “Christmas tree” made national news. But the governor's concession is little more than a back-handed insult to those who treasure the uniquely Christian aspects of Christmas. In a rambling and self-serving official statement, Chafee explained that because of the past angry words and supposed misunderstanding over his reasoning for referring to it as a “holiday tree,” he was begrudgingly allowing the invitation to this year's tree lighting to refer to the state's “Christmas tree.”
“Despite the myriad of pressing issues facing Rhode Island and the nation, this presumably happy event became a focal point for too much anger,” said the governor in his statement. “Strangely lost in the brouhaha was any intellectual discussion of the liberties pioneered here in Rhode Island 350 years ago in our Charter.”
With a tone of a stern schoolmaster correcting naughty students, Chafee informed his constituents that since he didn't think that “how we address the State House tree” ought to impact the discussion over Rhode Island's “lively experiment” of state government, “this year’s invitation calls the tree a Christmas tree.”
Chafee began the “brouhaha” over the state's tree in 2011 when he insisted that the blue spruce gracing the Statehouse that year be referred to officially as a “Holiday Tree.” Chafee, who changed his party designation from Republican to Independent in 2007, said that eschewing the term “Christmas” was in line with the principles laid down by Rhode Island founder Roger Williams that the state would supposedly be a place where religion and government were kept separate.
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Photo of Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee in front of the tree in 2012: AP Images