A new debate is doing the rounds in the state of Rhode Island, following Gov. Lincoln Chafee's description of a Christmas tree as a holiday tree at the State House.
Apparently the incident was enough to drive a number of people all over the state into frenzy. Several people rallied to teach the governor the real meaning of Christmas.
The incident, such as it was, seems to have actually hurt people's sentiments, ahead of the holiday season, and the governor received as many as 4,000 calls (400 from other states) to his office. He has also been dragged into local talk radio shows and the Roman Catholic Diocese itself has seen fit to reprimand him severely.
He's trying to put our religion down, Ken Schiano of Cranston, who came to the tree lighting after hearing about the controversy, told USA Today. It's a Christmas tree. It always has been and it always will be, no matter what that buffoon says it is, he added.
Chafee, however, did not address the several hundred people who filled the State House to watch the tree lighting. He later said he was surprised by the heated reaction to his choice of words and argued that he was only honoring Rhode Island's great history of religious tolerance. In fact, Chafee's immediate predecessor also referred to State House trees as holiday trees.
A few dozen carolers interrupted a performance by a children's chorus to sing O Christmas Tree after Chafee lit the holiday tree. The difference of opinion also provoked the Providence diocese to schedule a competing Christmas tree lighting a block from the State House.
However, Barry Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, supported the governor by saying Chafee was only trying to uphold Rhode Island's legacy as one of the first secular governments in the modern world.
Rhode Island is Roger Williams country, Lynn told USA Today, He was one of the great champions of religious freedom and diversity in our history. There is no war against Christianity. We have a dizzying level of religious freedom in America.
Religious dissident Roger Williams founded Rhode Island in 1636 as a sanctuary for tolerance, where government and religion would forever be kept separate, according to a USA Today report.