Madison County Opinion...

DECEMBER 22, 2004

By Frank Gillispie
The Madison County Journal
December 22, 2004

You can’t take Christ out of Christmas
The ACLU is fighting a losing battle in its efforts to take religion out of Christmas. You see, everything about the holiday has a religious background. It is not only the nativity scenes that depict religious ideals. The Christmas tree, the decorations, the wreaths, the candles, the gifts, even Santa himself are based on religious themes.
Now it is true that we do not know Jesus’ actual birthdate. The best guess of those who study such things is that he was born in the early fall. The bible does not give a date for the event.
But long before his birth, worshippers of the pagan god Mythra had chosen the winter solstice as the date for his birth. When the early church found that their members still celebrated this holiday, they simply substituted Jesus for Mythra and built a celebration around His story. So when we celebrate the holidays, we are celebrating the winter solstice and nearly all religions have a ceremony to acknowledge the return of the sun from its fall retreat.
In northern Europe, the Druids celebrated the change in the season by decorating their homes with wreaths and garlands made from evergreen limbs.
They extinguished the fires in the town and lit a new fire under a fresh log from which each family would relight their home fires. Martin Luther, founder of the protestant movement is said to have been traveling on one Christmas season. He passed under an evergreen tree and noticed the stars shining through the branches. When he returned home, he recreated the scene by putting candles on the limbs of a tree in his home.
Thus the tradition of Christmas lights and candles began. The giving of gifts goes back to the traditions of the three wise men who came to see the infant Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
The seasonal feast evolved from the sharing of food among members of the community to assure each member would have enough to make it through the coldest days of the year.
Then we have Santa Clause. He is identified with St. Nicholas, the bishop of Myra in Asia Minor who died on December 6, 343. St Nicholas was famous for bringing gifts to the poor and needy in his community. Another contributor to the Santa myth was the pagan god Wotan who was credited with bringing gifts to good children, and ashes to those who were not so good.
A 2001 survey by the Graduate Center of the City University of New York that sampled 50,281 American adults found that 77.5 percent of Americans consider themselves to be Christians, 1.3 percent are Jewish, 0.5 percent are Muslim, 0.5 percent are Buddhist and 0.4 percent are Hindu and only 14 percent follow no organized religion. Ours is an overwhelmingly Christian nation. That is our history and tradition. While it is accepted that no one should be forced to follow any particular faith, trying to deny that faith to the vast majority of us is also not acceptable.
The First Amendment to the Unites States Constitution says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Those who are trying to take religion out of the Christmas season need to read the second half of that line. They have no more right to prohibit us from the free exercise of religious faith than we have to force religion on them.
Public parks, city halls and county courthouse grounds belong to all the citizens. If the vast majority of American citizens want to place displays on public grounds that reflect the religious aspects of Christmas, they have just as much right to do so as any other group. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to look.
Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal. His e-mail address is His website can be accessed at

By Zach Mitcham
The Madison County Journal
December 22, 2004

In the Meantime

Rapid growth on the horizon?
If you've never been interested in your local government, then it might be time for you to pay some attention. Cause there's quite a bit happening now that will profoundly affect this county for years to come.
Consider these things:
•It would take a world class runner over two hours to run the length of water lines — 25 miles — put in the ground or purchased by the industrial development authority (IDA) over the past year.
•This rapid water line expansion will change the county in ways that aren't readily apparent to the eye now, bringing substantially more homes and more businesses to the county in years to come. (I believe this infrastructure growth is the most significant development in the county in years. This subterranean water line activity lays the roots for residential and commercial development, which could transform Madison County's identity — tipping two centuries of farming life toward suburban/retail life, which opponents call "sprawl" and proponents call needed "progress.")
•That growth may be coming quicker than you think: Consider, the county commissioners are soon expected to hear proposals for two major subdivisions: a 475-lot development proposed for Colbert Grove Church Road and a 145-lot subdivision proposed for the Colbert-Danielsville Road.
•Three Republican commissioners will replace three Democratic commissioners in January. The current board has a reputation of backing agricultural interests over the wishes of developers. We've seen that happen in a number of hotly-contested matters, such as the proposed shopping center at the intersection of Hwy. 98 and Hwy. 172, where the developers' plans were shot down twice. But with three out of five members new to the table, will the BOC adopt a more pro-growth stance? I'd certainly hedge my bets on yes, considering what those candidates said prior to the election (though my crystal ball isn't always so clear — see Pigskin Pickers).
•Will the land use map be reformed in 2005, and how will it be changed? Could changes reflect developers' desire to push for residential growth, or might farmers exert enough influence to protect rural land?
•Of course, you must also consider: will the land use map matter anyway? Some say the land use map is a strict rulebook, while others say it's a non-binding document, something that just gives the BOC a general sense of direction but doesn't tie their hands when it comes time to vote. So how will the new board apply the land use map?
•Will the county commissioners renew their contract with the IDA to handle water operations in Madison County in May of 2005? The IDA is clearly more powerful than the BOC if you look at the two in terms of risk versus reward. Sure, the BOC takes certain risks in terms of providing services — ie. establishing a new jail, an EMS station, etc. — but most of its major construction projects are sales-tax funded.
On the other hand, the IDA has embarked on several truly significant water expansion projects without sales tax funding. They have invested considerable money — to the tune of an annual $100,000 in debt retirement for 20 years — in hopes of future growth and future returns, all without that pretty penny sales tax. (Remember, the BOC wanted to tag $3 million for infrastructure on last year's SPLOST renewal vote, but dropped that plan due to a failure to secure a mandated intergovernmental agreement in time.)
Despite the lack of SPLOST, the IDA moved quickly to get infrastructure in the ground anyway. (Notably, the IDA does not plan on raising its taxes this year despite its numerous projects. However, what the IDA's tax rate will actually be isn't clear yet due to the tax digest delays.)
Ultimately, when the BOC decides on renewal of the contract with the IDA, the commissioners will show either a vote of confidence in the IDA's handling of water services or they will vote to restructure the county's water operations.
So why does that matter?
Well, right now, the IDA is the force driving both residential and commercial growth in this county.
IDA executive director Marvin White says Madison County is about 20 years behind surrounding counties in terms of infrastructure. But sit in on the IDA meetings and it becomes obvious that the industrial authority is doing all it can to cut that gap and to bring all the growth it can to Madison County. Rest assured, growth will flow behind water. And beneath our feet, that water is beginning to gush.
Whether this thrills you or scares you, whether you're for or against growth, it's worth noticing how rapidly water lines are being laid.
It's eye-opening.
It's important.
It's Madison County's future.
So we'll do our best to report what's happening in 2005. But remember this, too: no newspaper article beats the real thing, which is going to meetings and seeing first-hand what your government does or doesn't do in your name.
And if you think it doesn't matter what they do, then, honestly, you're just not really paying attention to what surrounds you.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.

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