The town of Athens, Texas, is modest. The Henderson County courthouse, as in many small towns in the South, is the center of the community. Normally, during this time of the year, Christmas decorations are on each corner of the square. But this year, that simple display of the holiday season has run into an unexpected bump.

An organization of people who do not live in the town, who do not even live in the state, sent a letter to the Henderson County Commission.This letter was the shock of his life, according to Commissioner Joe Hall. The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a organization of atheists in Madison, Wisconsin, demanded that the town remove the Christmas decorations because according to Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-founder of the organization:  “This excludes non-Christians and non-believers who are 17 percent of the U.S. population. So it's necessary there should be changes.”

In fact, the atheist group is not only asking that the Christian symbols come down but that the following go up instead:

Despite the excitement and anticipation for the Christmas season that pervades the nation every year, the religious element of the holiday continues to be a point of contention for some and a source of great controversy. In Paragould, Arkansas, for example, the Greene County School Board forced the removal of a Nativity scene that was displayed at one of its elementary schools, adhering to local atheists who articulated the tired maxim of “separation of church and state.” After some persistent protest and displays of heroism by the elementary counselor, Kay Williams, however, the school board gave in and permitted the Nativity scene to be put up once again.

According to Arkansas Times, which took a very antagonistic perspective on the issue, Kay Williams posted a scene depicting the birth of Jesus on a school bulletin board, which apparently drew two complaints. As a result, the school board asked her to remove the scene, but Williams continued to put Nativity scene displays in her classroom. She told the Paragould Daily Press, “We do live in the Bible Belt. One thing that really disturbed most of [the supporters] was we hear about things like this all the time in other parts of the country. But this is kind of a first for the Bible Belt, here in Arkansas. I think the people realized [this issue] is here, and we better take a stand.”
 

A new study by the Pew Research Center has found that only 51 percent of adults in the U.S. are married, an all-time low for matrimony in America. The recent numbers pale in comparison to a high in 1960, when 72 percent of adults 18 and older were married, and represent a trend that is similar to that witnessed in other “advanced post-industrial societies,” says Pew.

“If current trends continue, the share of adults who are currently married will drop to below half within a few years,” wrote the study’s authors, who noted that alternative “adult living arrangements — including cohabitation, single-person households, and single parenthood — have all grown more prevalent in recent decades.”

According to statistics, the study found, since 1960 the numbers of adults who have never married has nearly doubled, from 15 percent to 28 percent, and the median age of those marrying for the first time has increased from 20.3 to 26.5 for women, and from 22.8 to 28.7 for men.

Here's the latest "Freedom Index: A Congressional Scorecard Based on the Constitution."

Weeks ago, The New American reported on Denver Broncos’ quarterback Tim Tebow’s passionate faith and the flak he has taken for it. Unfortunately, Tebow remains a target and was most recently the subject of an offensive comedic skit on Saturday Night Live.

After the Denver Broncos emerged from another significant win against the Chicago Bears last week, a number of media outlets began to ponder whether Tebow’s faith and constant prayer played a role in his success as a starting quarterback for the Broncos. On Saturday, December 17, Saturday Night Live made fun of the notion that Tebow’s spirituality has anything to do with his victories.

The SNL skit featured Jason Sudeikis as Jesus Christ, who appears to Tim Tebow in the locker room after a Broncos’ win. As Tebow, played by Taran Killam, prayed and thanked “the most important person in my life, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” as Tebow often says during press conferences, Jesus appears.
 

Christopher Hitchens, the outspoken atheist columnist and author who took delight in ridiculing the Christian faith and its adherents, but who also shared a handful of the convictions many of them embraced, died December 15 of cancer at the age of 62. His death was announced by Vanity Fair, the magazine for which he had written since 1992.

English-born and Oxford-educated, Hitchens was, said the New York Times in its glowing obituary, “a British Trotskyite who had lost faith in the Socialist movement, spent much of his life wandering the globe and reporting on the world’s trouble spots for The Nation magazine, the British newsmagazine The New Statesman and other publications.”

 

In writing this piece, I’m reminded of a little exchange between the late William F. Buckley and friend and fellow National Review writer Florence King. Buckley had just penned some less-than-flattering words about a recently deceased person of prominence whose name escapes me, and King chided him, saying something to the effect that he had broken ground in journalism: the “attack-obit.” Buckley’s response was, “Wait till you see the obituary I have planned for you!”

And in writing this critical article about bon vivant Christopher Hitchens in the wake of his death this past Thursday, I expect some ridicule as well. Yet I don’t think Hitchens would demand to be spared the acidic ink he used to eviscerate others — or that he would have any credibility doing so. Remember that this was the man who, before the gentle Jerry Falwell’s body was even cold, said things such as “If he [Falwell] had been given an enema, he could have been buried in a matchbox” and “I wish there was a Hell for Falwell.”

For my part, I wouldn’t wish eternal damnation on Hitchens; I truly hope he rests in peace. But I can’t say the same for his legacy. And when I see the obligatory exaltation of his life’s work — with secular icons, the deader they get, the better they were — I think that legacy needs a little damnation.

The New American has been reporting on the controversy surrounding the Christmas season, particularly when Christians attempt to display the Nativity scene or assert the holiness behind the Christmas holiday in any way. These reports would seem to indicate that Christmas brings out the worst in people; however, it's salutary to note that it also brings out the best. A prime example of the latter can be found in reports from Kmarts across the nation that anonymous donors are paying off strangers’ layaway accounts in the spirit of the holiday.

In Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, for example, an employee at the Kmart confirmed that an anonymous donor sent a $500 gift card to pay $100 on five different layaways. Store manager Barb Winowiecki then randomly selected which accounts to fund through the gift card.

“Those with layaways are in for a happy surprise when they come in to pay on their account,” Winowiecki observed. “We’re not informing them ahead of time, so they can have a happy surprise.”

“Unlike giving to organizations," she added, "people who anonymously donate this way know exactly where their money is going. It seems to be contagious. A local resident paid on another person’s layaway.”

Use this "Agenda" issue to set goals for yourself and to explain the JBS to others.

JBS CEO Art Thompson's weekly video news update for December 19-25, 2011.

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