Dozens of religious Christmas cards hang on the walls of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Arizona chapter office in Phoenix — remnants of a crusade to put Christ back in Christmas this holiday season by groups like the Scottsdale-based Alliance Defense Fund.
"It was so sweet, and we appreciate it," said Dawn Wyland, interim director of the ACLU of Arizona. "We like getting Christmas cards just like everyone else does."
The ACLU was a main target of the religiously minded lawyers, who blame it for incidents around the country such as the prohibition in schools of religious carols, candy canes and Christmas cookies.
This year, said Alliance Defense Fund attorney Mike Johnson, "the pendulum swung as far as it could go to the attack of the celebration of Christmas."
His organization is analyzing the results of its "Christmas Project," in which 400 people called in with questions or complaints related to the public suppression of Christmas — 100 more calls than the group had last year, he said.
One school in New Jersey altered the words of "Silent night, Holy night, " to "Silent night, Winter night."
In Wisconsin, a retirement community prohibited residents to post angels or nativity scenes.
Johnson said the increase in calls came from a combination of better publicity by the defense group and the increasing "attacks" on Christmas.
"It appears we hit a tipping point," he said. "We certainly increased the profile of our Christmas projects this year. We increased the number of attorneys participating by about 100 or so, so there were more troops in the field."
But Wyland called the debate over an alleged assault on Christmas a "publicity stunt."
"The Alliance Defense Fund raises a lot of money off this little campaign," she said. "They’re using us because the ACLU is well-known, and they’re not."
She said the ACLU prefers to focus on issues like the Patriot Act, prisoner abuse and the allegations of wiretapping coming from the White House, she said — things she considers "real problems."
Many local references to Christmas occurred in Arizona without problem this year. Schools throughout the East Valley sang songs like, "Oh Holy Night," keeping the religious lyrics intact.
Hayden Butte in Tempe featured its annual light display of the Three Wise Men.
And Carefree held its fourth-annual Christmas Party, where more than 700 people went to the Carefree Resort to listen to Christmas music.
The Rev. Bob Hutson of Christ the Lord Lutheran Church even gave an invocation.
Carefree Mayor Ed Morgan said he wasn’t concerned.
"I wished everyone a happy Hanukkah, Feliz Navidad, happy holidays and Merry Christmas," he said. "I try to cover all the bases."
Johnson said he expects the Christmas Project to grow throughout 2006, and he anticipates as many as 1,000 lawyers could join the ranks of Christmas defenders next year.