President Obama's 'Charlie Brown Christmas' Controversy

Social media controversy erupted after President Obama's remarks during an "A Charlie Brown Christmas" retrospective.

Published Dec 4, 2015

On 30 November 2015, ABC aired the retrospective It's Your 50th Christmas, Charlie Brown, featuring performances from celebrities and a brief clip of President Obama and the First Lady praising the animated classic:

Shortly thereafter, rumors made the rounds that President Obama and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had fined ABC for airing A Charlie Brown Christmas over its religious themes, while Fox News opinion columnist Todd Starnes published an article titled "Good Grief! Obama Thinks Christmas Is About Loving Tiny Trees."

Starnes often writes about alleged government attacks on Christianity, Christians, and Christmas. He has written about a ban of Christian objects at VA chapels, a ban on the words "Merry Christmas" and Christmas trees at VA hospitals, a ban on a religious song at a high school football game, the removal of pews at a University chapel to placate Muslims, replacement of the word "God" with the word "Allah" in the Pledge of Allegiance, court-martials of Christian servicemen, a ban on Christian gift baskets at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, and a ban on American flags dangling over barbecue pits at a food event.

Starnes' latest entreaty urged fellow Americans to recognize the Obama family's most recent anti-Christmas salvo (seen in the above clip). Observing that President Obama "failed to mention Jesus," Starnes lamented:

President Obama took a break from saving the icebergs to weigh in on what he believes to be the true meaning of Christmas – loving tiny trees.

[Mrs. Obama's comment] was all well and good — until President Obama chimed in.

“They teach us that tiny trees just need a little love, and that on this holiday we celebrate peace on Earth and goodwill toward all,” he said.

Wait. What?

Does the president really believe that “A Charlie Brown Christmas” was all about tiny trees pining for love?

“Because as Linus knows, that’s what Christmas is all about,” Mrs. Obama declared ... what is not within [the Obama family's] purview is to revise the true meaning of Christmas.

Starnes mentioned his column was inspired by the 1 December 2015 Christian Post article "Obama Forgets Jesus Is True Meaning of Christmas in Charlie Brown Christmas Linus Speech." That item quoted a portion of the animated classic in which Peanuts character Linus van Pelt recited the lines upon which President Obama (and multiple opinion columns) based his remarks:

Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.

Lights, please.

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'"

That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

The President and First Lady's appearance and subsequent editorials about their remarks prompted many social media users to voice their distaste for the segment:

Not sure why it's okay to disregard and disrespect Christianity while everyone is instructed to walk on egg shells for other faith groups in this country! I'm not convinced there is an intentional, liberal conspiracy to take Christ out of Christmas even though, at times, like this one, it seems to be a supported theory. This is just stupid and blatantly disrespectful and immature of the Obamas! Once again, Mr. president, I am unimpressed!

Charlie Brown has always been one of my favorites. I have watched A Charlie Brown Christmas since I was a little kid. I never tire of it. This year is the 50th anniversary of the beloved classic. Barack and Michelle Obama made a statement over the show, blathering about how it showed good will toward men. That and the little Christmas tree Obama says was what Linus addressed in the show. Nothing could be further from the truth. What Linus spoke of was the birth of Jesus and how that was what Christmas was really all about. Obama and Mooch deliberately left that out. Why? Take your pick… they are Marxists and I contend, Obama is a Muslim. If that had been Allah, he would have praised it all the way to Mecca and back.

Hussein and the Mooch appeared during the 50th anniversary airing of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” During the show, Linus explains to Charlie Brown that Jesus is the reason for Christmas in one of the best scenes of the special ... But when Hussein talks to the children he has as much trouble saying the word "Jesus" as he has saying the words "Islamic Terrorists".

On 29 November 2015 (one day before the Charlie Brown retrospective aired, and prior to the controversy) Gospel Herald published an article titled "How Schulz Fought with Producers to Keep the Message of Jesus in the TV classic ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas.'" That pre-airdate telling described how Peanuts creator Charles Schulz fought to include religious themes (apparently considered inappropriate for prime-time television in 1965) in the special:

CBS screened the feature in New York a week before coming out in December that year. According to the report, the "executives watched in stony silence" and gave television producer Lee Mendelson a condescending and less than enthusiastic response: "Well, you gave it a good try."

... Schulz and Mendelson got into an argument about whether a reciting of the story of Jesus' birth according to the passage in St. Luke should even be mentioned, much less declared as the true meaning of Christmas. Schulz was adamant despite Mendelson's belief that religion should not be mentioned on prime-time entertainment.

An 11 December 2000 Cleveland Enquirer article maintained '[q]uoting scripture in a cartoon was revolutionary" at the time the special aired; A Charlie Brown Christmas' Wikipedia page reiterated that the content involving religion was at the time culturally dissonant, quite different from the cries of creeping secularization voiced in recent op-eds:

Schulz was adamant about Linus' reading of the Bible, despite Mendelson and Melendez's concerns that religion was a controversial topic, especially on television. Melendez recalled Schulz turned to him and remarked "If we don't do it, who will?" Schulz's estimation proved accurate, and in the 1960s, less than 9 percent of television Christmas episodes contained a substantive reference to religion, according to university researcher Stephen Lind.

That assertion was backed up by the 2005 USA Today article "The Christmas Classic That Almost Wasn't," which described the show's "religious themes" as "revolutionary for network TV" in 1965:

Mendelson and animator Bill Melendez fretted about the insistence by Peanuts creator Charles Schulz that his first-ever TV spinoff end with a reading of the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke by a lisping little boy named Linus.

"We told Schulz, 'Look, you can't read from the Bible on network television,'" Mendelson says. "When we finished the show and watched it, Melendez and I looked at each other and I said, 'We've ruined Charlie Brown.'

A significant number of social media users felt that President Obama snubbed Christians during his remarks on the A Charlie Brown Christmas retrospective, and some proclaimed the President had "lied" about the true meaning of Christmas. (A clip of those remarks in their entirety is embedded above.) But it should be noted the special's religious themes were far more controversial in 1965 than they appeared to be in 2015, consistently described as "unheard of" or "revolutionary."

Whether the President opted to deliver remarks deliberately inclusive of children of all faiths watching, or simply truncated Linus van Pelt's lines to their final words was a matter of debate, likely down as much to Obama's lexical choices as the lens through which any given viewer interpreted his words. It should also be noted that many "war on Christmas" charges aimed at President Obama (or a federal government often assumed to be doing his direct bidding) involved a ban on the word "Christmas" in favor of the more secular "holiday." Throughout the clip above both President and Mrs. Obama repeatedly used the word "Christmas" in their joint remarks, both in reference to the title of A Charlie Brown Christmas and to the holiday itself.

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.