It is a rare opportunity for the rookie reporter, this ride-along with two members of the ACLU about to begin their Keep Christ out of Christmas Season Patrol.
At the appointed hour, the newsman and the two American Civil Liberties Union lawyers seat themselves in an unmarked car, the only clue to the mission a bumper sticker, “The Three Wise Men Are Liberal Supreme Court Justices.”
The Southern New Mexico weather cooperates with a light snow adding festivity to the occasion, and the ACLUers shed a sentimental tear when they hear the song on the radio: “On the third day of Winter Break my true love gave to me, one lawyer a-suing, two shoppers scowling, three pagans pillaging….”
“I don’t quite get it,” the young reporter asks. “You want to take Christ out of Christmas, yet if Christ isn’t the reason for the season, what is?”
“Best Buy, you idiot,” the lawyer says. “CompUSA, Target.”
Cruising the packed Wal-Mart parking lot in Clovis, Earl, who appears to be in charge, gets excited. “Look! Look at that guy over there!”
Earl is pointing to a shopper with a top-heavy cart, loading the Christmas gifts into the trunk when a passerby bangs into him. “See there, see how he is forking that guy a finger,” Earl points out. “Now there’s the real Christmas spirit.”
Later, the ACLU patrol crawls by the courthouse in Carlsbad, the lawyers looking at the holiday display there with glum expressions. “Wait,” the reporter says, “isn’t that a nativity scene? Aren’t you guys going to sue?”
“Naw,” says Earl, “they got us there. See, besides the scene with the infant Jesus there are those secular trappings, snowmen, the cowboy stuff, Santa. According to a loophole we’d like to plug, they can use the nativity scene if they use all the rest. What’s this country coming to?”
“Say,” says the reporter. “There’s the post office. Do you mind dropping this card into the box?”
When Earl sees the stamp on the envelope, a picture of the Mother and Child, he screeches to a sudden stop. “Are you telling me the post office is selling religious stamps? In America?”
“Hold on there, Earl,” cautions his partner, Clyde. “It doesn’t say anything about the child being Jesus.”
“Who do you think it is, numbskull, Charlie Brown? It’s just more of that dangerous ‘In God we trust’ thinking!” Earl grumbles.
“Good point,” says Clyde, “let’s sue them. We can’t win but we would drive conservatives nuts, and that’s worth something.”
The three ride in silence, the ACLUers in a funk until they drive slowly by a Lordsburg school when what to their wondrous eyes should appear but public school kids singing Silent Night, Holy Night.
“We’ve got a hot one down here,” Earl barks to the ACLU dispatch desk. “Bunch of kids singing about a holy night! Send in the troops.”
“Negative,” dispatch crackles. “We’ve checked that one out. They changed the sheet music to read ‘Silent Night, Wholly Night.’ ”
Dejected, the ACLU patrol vanishes into the darkness. Meanwhile, the children, their parents and friends chuckle at having foiled the Xmas crew. Peacefully and joyfully, they go about praising their Lord and Savior.
Ned Cantwell is a retired newspaperman living in Ruidoso.