‘Merry Christmas? Agriculture Department Imposes Christmas Tree Tax’ reads a Fox News headline.
The Christmas wars have come early this year.
Despite the provocative headlines and the outrage from some in the conservative blogosphere, it was not the Obama administration that initiated or imposed the newly announced 15-cent tax on fresh-cut Christmas trees; rather it was concocted by the Christmas tree industry itself.
(Update: 2:57 p.m: White House spokesman Matt Lehrich told Fox News Wednesday afternoon that the implementation of the program was being put on hold in light of the controversy.)
Rather than this being a case of the government trying to suppress religion, it is actually an unusual example of the government working with private industry to promote what many see as a religious symbol.
From the Heritage foundation’s blog:
“President Obama’s Agriculture Department today announced that it will impose a new 15-cent charge on all fresh Christmas trees....to support a new federal program to improve the image and marketing of Christmas trees.
“In the Federal Register of November 8, 2011, Acting Administrator of Agricultural Marketing David R. Shipman announced that the Secretary of Agriculture will appoint a Christmas Tree Promotion Board. The purpose of the Board is to run a “program of promotion, research, evaluation, and information designed to strengthen the Christmas tree industry’s position in the marketplace; maintain and expend existing markets for Christmas trees; and to carry out programs, plans, and projects designed to provide maximum benefits to the Christmas tree industry”
The Christmas Tree Promotion Board will take the fee, charged to tree importers and producers and run a campaign (similar to the Got Milk? ads) to promote the merits of fresh-cut trees to the public. In an interview with Fox News, Agriculture Department spokesman Michael T. Jarvis “insisted the fee does not count as a tax, since the industry is effectively ‘assessing themselves.’” The fresh-tree industry has been hurt by the growing popularity of artificial trees.
In modern America, Christmas trees have been identified by the Supreme Court to have both secular and religious meanings. “Although Christmas trees once carried religious connotations, today they typify the secular celebration of Christmas,” wrote Justice Blackmun for the majority in County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union, Greater Pittsburgh Chapter, a 1989 case on religious displays. But for Christians, the tree has been traditionally seen as “an ancient symbol of life in the midst of winter,” writes Christianity Today.