Buttars takes aim at stores waging 'war on Christmas'

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Sen. Chris Buttars wants Utah's Legislature to declare its opposition to the "war on Christmas."

The West Jordan Republican is sponsoring a resolution encouraging retailers to embrace Christmas in their promotions rather than the generic "holidays."

"It would encourage the use of 'Merry Christmas,'" Buttars said of the non-binding statement that is still being drafted. "I'm sick of the Christmas wars -- we're a Christian nation and ought to use the word."

Several fellow lawmakers he wouldn't yet name support his effort, added Buttars, who has a long history of championing the socially conservative agenda of the Utah Eagle Forum.

In 2005, right-wing pundit Bill O'Reilly took on the same fight, characterizing the so-called war on Christmas as part of a secular progressive agenda that would open the door to legalized drugs, abortion-on-demand and same-sex marriage.

One advertising executive thinks the Buttars message crosses the line.

"I'm kind of flabbergasted that there is even such a proposal," said Dave Newbold, president of Salt Lake City-based Richter7 Advertising and Public Relations.

"We may be primarily Christian but that doesn't mean that you force your language or beliefs on anybody," Newbold added. "We live in a multicultural area and it's right and proper to be sensitive to the various cultures."

Implementing such a resolution would be challenging, said Jim Olsen, president of the 350-member Utah Retail Merchants Association.

"A number of our members are national in nature and their ads, signage and promotions are done at a national level," Olsen said. "Any time we have states encouraging us to deviate from those national programs, it begins to cause problems."

Lawmakers were hesitant to weigh in on a measure they had not seen.

"I think Christmas is a wonderful holiday," said Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo. "Am I supporting the legislative action? I'll have to read it first."

While Bramble believes that America is grounded in Judeo-Christian beliefs, part of that thinking involves tolerance of other faiths, he said.

"I don't find it offensive when someone says 'Happy Holidays,' " Bramble added. "What is offensive is if we're embarrassed to say 'Merry Christmas.' "

Rep. David Litvack, a Jewish Democrat who represents part of Salt Lake City, said he's fine with people wishing him a Merry Christmas. However, he wonders if constituents really want their representatives spending time on such matters.

"There are many more pressing issues that we've been elected to address," Litvack said. "We're a nation of many faiths and we as leaders should be finding ways to build common ground and respect, not entrenching one side over another."

The resolution could violate First Amendment rights depending on the motivation behind it, said Salt Lake City civil rights attorney Brian Barnard.

"What he's doing is kind of silly but it doesn't ring a bell as a violation of separation of church and state," Barnard said.

However, if Buttars bases the resolution on America being a Christian nation, that moves the measure over the line, Barnard said.

"Our country was not founded by a bunch of Christians," Barnard said. "They were people concerned about religious freedoms."

"If [Buttars] wants people to say 'Merry Christmas' because it's the Christian thing to do," Barnard added, "then it becomes a violation of First Amendment rights."