During the holidays we inevitably are faced with objections from atheists regarding public Christmas displays. In their view, nothing connected to religion is allowed in the public sphere. We can argue about just what is religious, or what constitutes the public sphere, but what I want to address here is something more fundamental- the question, stated simply, of who is going to get their way. For whenever a symbol that is interpreted to be religious is removed because a small minority object, or simply because someone might object, the effect is not just to assuage the concerns of the minority in some neutral fashion, but to impose their preferences on the majority.
We are ever sensitive to the rights of the minority, as we should be in a democratic republic, and believe they never should be oppressed, but such rights do not extend to imposing the minority view over everyone else. There is almost always going to be someone raising objections to just about anything the great majority of people are comfortable with. Should those who raise objections always have their way? There are some who in effect maintain this position, to the extent that anyone who finds anything offensive must be indulged at the expense of the majority and common sense.
There are some things about which legal claims are invariably made, that are not matters of law. If there were some sort of legal discrimination against a minority it would be unconstitutional, but there are no “cultural” rights (with the exception of Indians) outside of universities that have invented them. In symbolic and cultural matters the preferences of the majority should prevail. No one is being forced to adhere to them, nor is anyone being harmed. When the norms of the majority in society are not respected the social order becomes untenable. If the majority feels challenged or under siege it will react. For minority rights to be respected at all there has to be a cohesive majority that feels secure. There must be a prevailing majority ethos in society, otherwise there is at the very least alienation and instability, and ultimately social collapse.
In a courthouse where the ten commandments have been posted for over a century, and where they have been established by tradition and convention, it is a stretch to argue that they are banned by the constitution, which simply states that the government cannot establish a particular religion, not that religion is altogether prohibited from public life. I personally am not religious, but I recognize that most people are, and it is their sentiments that ought to prevail whenever such questions are raised. Those who want to ban Christmas displays are part of a constant chorus claiming that all minorities have rights, but the majority never has any rights.
The objections of a few to virtually anything basically boils down to saying we don’t like that, and because it offends, bothers, or otherwise disturbs us it must be removed. Society cannot possibly function if in any instance that someone finds something objectionable that thing must be eliminated; it would then be impossible for there to be anything common. If every claim of this sort is honored it leaves society in an acultural state, and social bonds are severely weakened.
But to maintain that the majority ought to prevail in such matters is not unfettered majoritarianism. The minority is still protected. Crucially, when the majority prevails it is not forcing anything on a minority. The minority is not being compelled to succumb to the majority position or practices. It is therefore absurd to require that the majority submit to the minority position, but this is what constantly happens when a minority effectively vetoes the majority, often due to nothing more than the timidity of those charged with the administration of various venues. Christmas is a custom that has been with us for ages and cannot suddenly be undone on the basis of a theory. Thus there is no possible justification for allowing a minority that has deliberately singled out the holiday to spoil Christmas for everyone else.