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The Myth of the Pagan Origins of Christmas

It is that time of year again!

The idea that typical Christmas traditions – like Christmas Trees, Santa Claus, or even its date – all somehow derive from paganism is so common that it has become almost a truism.  The pagan source is either described as something the Christian Church coopted and Christianized or merely as something that has survived as a historical or cultural accident despite the influence of the Church in Western Civilization.

As it turns out, the assumption that Christmas traditions are just pagan holdovers may, indeed, not be based on reality or historical facts but, rather, on unquestioned presumptions – a “conventional wisdom” if you will – based merely on the similarity between the traditions.

It appears, for one reason or another, scholars have recently taken another look at the origin of Christmas traditions, and their findings have revealed that the conventional wisdom about their origin appears to be mistaken.

Instead of rehearsing the facts and arguments myself, I would suggest checking out this article (see here (“Yes, Christ was Really Born on December 25: Here’s a Defense of the Traditional Date of Christmas” by Dr. Taylor Marshall on his website)) and this article (see here (“Calculating Christmas” by William J. Tighe on Touchstone)).

In addition to the above articles, I highly suggest watching this video:

This additional video is primarily addressed to Christians who object to Christmas trees on biblical grounds:

As it turns out, a great article by Daniel Lattier on this subject was recently published in Intellectual Takeout and can be found here and below:

It’s generally accepted that early Christians adopted December 25th as the day of Christ’s birth to co-opt the pagan celebration of the winter solstice. Some believe this fact undermines Christianity.

But according to Professor William Tighe, this “fact” may actually be a myth.

Based on his extensive research, Tighe argues that the December 25th date “arose entirely from the efforts of early Latin Christians to determine the historical date of Christ’s death.” He also goes so far as to claim that the December 25th pagan feast of the “’Birth of the Unconquered Sun’… was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance of Roman Christians.”

Tighe explains…

In the Jewish tradition at the time of Christ, there was a belief in what they called the “integral age”—that the prophets had died on the same days of their conception or birth. Early Christians spent much energy on determining the exact date of Christ’s death. Using historical sources, Christians in the first or second century settled on March 25th as the date of his crucifixion. Soon after, March 25th became the accepted date of Christ’s conception, as well.

Add nine months—the standard term of a pregnancy—to March 25th, and Christians came up with December 25th as the date of Christ’s birth.

It is unknown exactly when Christians began formally celebrating December25th as a feast. What is known, however, is that the date of December 25th“had no religious significance in the Roman pagan festal calendar before Aurelian’s time (Roman emperor from 270-275), nor did the cult of the sun play a prominent role in Rome before him.” According to Tighe, Aurelian intended the new feast “to be a symbol of the hoped-for ‘rebirth,’ or perpetual rejuvenation, of the Roman Empire…. [and] if it co-opted the Christian celebration, so much the better.”

As Tighe points out, the now-popular idea that Christians co-opted the pagan feast originates with Paul Ernst Jablonski (1693-1757), who opposed various supposed “paganizations” of Christianity.

Of course, to Christians, it really doesn’t matter that much whether or not they co-opted December 25th from the pagans, or vice versa. The Christian faith doesn’t stand or fall on that detail. But it’s nevertheless valuable for all of us to give closer scrutiny to shibboleths—such as that of the pagan origins of Christmas—which are continually repeated without being examined.

 

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Student Sues After Suspension From M.S. Program Over Refusal To Counsel Gay Couples

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

“A suit was filed last week in federal district court in Missouri by a former student in the Masters in Counseling program at Missouri State University alleging that he was removed from the program because of his religious views on counseling same-sex couples on their relationships.  The complaint (full text) in Cash v. Governors of Missouri State University, (WD MO, filed 4/19/2016), alleges in part:

Plaintiff’s experience at MSU has been devastating, crushing, and tormenting, culminating in his termination from the program — all because he interned with a Christian organization and expressed his religious beliefs on a hypothetical question about counseling a gay couple on relationship issues.

… Plaintiff was targeted and punished for expressing his Christian worldview … regarding a hypothetical situation…. Since he did not give the “correct” answer required by his counseling instructors, he was considered unsuitable for counseling and terminated from the program.

Thomas More Society announced the filing of the lawsuit. AP reports on the case.”

You can learn more about this issue here.

Vacant Property is Irredeemable after Sheriff Sale, Commonwealth Court Rules

If one wishes to take advantage of his right to redeem a piece of real estate subsequent to a sheriff’s sale, it is critical to act in a timely manner, otherwise one may miss the opportunity to do so.

53 P.S. Section 7293 lays out the time line to take action in redeeming a property; however, there was some ambiguity in precisely interpreting just when the deadlines occur. The Court, in the recent matter, and case of first impression, Brentwood Borough School District v. HSBC Bank USA, 111 A.3d 807, helped clarify some of the aforesaid ambiguity.

In Brentwood, Defendant HSBC is the mortgagee on a property which was sold at sheriff’s sale to a third party called Grove Properties, Inc. due to delinquent taxes. Within about five months, HSBC filed to redeem the property pursuant to 53 P.S. Section 7293(a). According to 53 P.S. Section 7293(a), a party must file to redeem a property within nine months from the date of the acknowledgment of the Sheriff’s Deed which conveys a property following a sheriff’s sale.  The trial court ruled against HSBC on this issue, asserting that HSBC only had ninety days to file to redeem, however on appeal the Commonwealth Court realized the trial court mistakenly applied the time line laid out in 53 P.S. Sections 27101-27605, and reversed the ruling of the trial court and confirmed the nine month time period.

The primary issue the Court focused upon was whether the property was vacant pursuant to 53 P.S. Section 7293(c), which made the case one of first impression. Section 7293(c) states that “there shall be no right of redemption of vacant property by any person after the date of the acknowledgment of the sheriff’s deed therefor.” Defendant argued that the property was not vacant because the occupant of the property at issue only temporarily stayed at her friends’ house to save money. She also left her belongings at the subject property. Based on the above, the Defendant asserted that, at most, the occupant of the property was only temporarily absent from it, which does not constitute its vacancy, as a property cannot be vacant if its occupant intends to return. In support of its argument, Defendant cited to how the term “occupied” is used in other cases and statutes.

The Court ruled that the term “occupied” must first be interpreted in the context of the Municipal Claims and Tax Liens statute (i.e.: 53 P.S. Section 7101 et seq). Pursuant to that statute the occupancy must be as a residence and not as a storage unit. Per the Court, the purpose of the statute is to increase the collection of taxes and to free land to bear its share of the tax burden. As a result, the Court reasoned, the statute must be interpreted to take consideration of the ability of the municipality to convert a house sold at sheriff’s sale back to productive use as quickly as possible.  Therefore, the Court deduced that the legislature intended the redemption period should be brief which, in this case, is nine months’ time.

The Court observed that “occupied” is a factual determination to be made and applied on a case-by-case basis. The factors to consider in looking at a case include: “whether anyone was habitually physically present at the property, i.e., regularly sleeping and eating there and using it as a place to dwell; whether any lack of physical presence was due to temporary illness, travel or renovation; whether the property was unsecured, damaged or uninhabitable; and whether the basic and necessary utilities such as water, electric and gas were operational.” The instant matter revealed a property which had no person habitually present in it before the sale. It had no running hot water or gas and, therefore, no means to bathe or cook, essentially making it uninhabitable.  Further, it also revealed that the occupant simply could not afford to reside at the property any longer. As a result, the Court resolved that the property was unoccupied. As the property was unoccupied, Defendant could not redeem the property after the date of the acknowledgment of the sheriff’s deed under the statute.

In light of the above, Defendant argued that disallowing them from redeeming the property was unjust as it “could not reasonably be deemed to be on notice that while [the occupant] kept all her belongings at the Property and frequently returned to the Property that she would later claim that she did not reside there anymore, and Defendant would suddenly be precluded from redeeming its interest in the Property.” The Court was not convinced. The Court was satisfied that the Defendant received all required statutory notices under the applicable law.

In sum, the Court ruled that the statute at issue is designed for a speedy and efficient process to return a property sold at sheriff’s sale to productive use and a property with no working utilities and no one physically inhabiting the property is vacant (or unoccupied) despite the occupant’s intention to move back in or leaving her belongings in the property.

Originally published on October 3, 2017 in Upon Further Review and can be viewed here.

New York Court Refuses To Dismiss Suit To Declare Muslim Marriage Valid

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

“In Jackson K v. Parisa G, 2016 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 1487 (NY Sup Ct New York County, April 8, 2016), a New York state trial court refused to dismiss a suit by plaintiff who believed he had validly married defendant in an elaborate Iranian Islamic ceremony in New York, attended by 200 guests, even though the couple did not obtain a New York marriage license.  Alternatively plaintiff sought damages for fraud and conversion of a $25,000 engagement ring. A 20-minute ceremony was performed by Ms. Sholeh Sham, who now says she is not a member of the clergy and had no authority to marry the couple. Plaintiff however claims the marriage was valid under NY Domestic Relations Law Sec. 12 that validates marriages solemnized “in the manner heretofore used and practiced” by a particular religious denomination. The court said in part:

The court need not decide at this point whether it is possible for the court to determine the validity of the purported marriage on neutral principles. The ultimate issue is whether the ceremony meets the requirements set forth in DRL §12. Plaintiff argues that, in Defendant’s denomination, no particular religious leader must solemnize a wedding ceremony. Under New York law, an officiant at a religious wedding ceremony need not be limited to a traditional concept of a member of the clergy or a minister ordained by a religious order….. Whether Ms. Shams was qualified to solemnize the marriage is an issue of fact….

The court also allowed plaintiff to move ahead with his claim of fraud, saying:

Here, the complaint includes detailed allegations to the effect that the Defendant accepted Plaintiff’s marriage proposal and engagement ring on July 29, 2009…; that the Defendant told him that her family wanted to select the wedding  officiant to be certain that the marriage would be recognized in the Islamic Republic of Iran and valid under Iranian law….

… Plaintiff alleges that Defendant convinced him that Ms. Shams was authorized to marry them at the time she officiated at the September 4, 2010 Ceremony, and that they were actually married on September 4, 2010. Only after years of purported marriage did Defendant tell Plaintiff they were not married.

You can learn more about this issue here.

A Collection of Family Law Writings by James W. Cushing, Esquire

Over the course of my career, I have written extensively on a wide variety of family law issues and legal principles.  These writings have been published in The Legal Intelligencer, Upon Further Review, and The Pennsylvania Family Lawyer as well as posted onto my blog.  I have collected these articles and blog posts and have listed them below.  Thanks for reading!

Articles:

Musings:

Former Kosher Supervisor At Manischewitz Sues Over Pressure To Compromise Standards

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

A lawsuit was filed Wednesday in state court in New York by Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz who was a kosher supervisor for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations (“OU”) and who certified products of Manischewitz Co.– a major producer of Passover foods– for more than 20 years.  As reported by NJ Advance Media and AP, the suit, filed just days before Passover, claims that Horowitz was forced to take a long leave of absence after complaining that he was being pressured by the OU to be more lax in his inspections of certain products.  Horowitz claims that OU cooperated because it was afraid that Manischewitz would move to a different kosher certifying agency.  Manischewitz denies the charges. The lawsuit seeks millions of dollars in damages for emotional distress and damage to reputation.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Suit Challenges Cross At Site of Historic Spanish Mission

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

The Freedom From Religion Foundation this week filed suit in a California federal district court challenging the constitutionality of a 14-foot tall granite Latin cross in Santa Clara’s Memorial Cross Park.  The complaint (full text) in Freedom From Religion Foundation v. City of Santa Clara, (ND CA, filed 4/20/2016), says that the cross was donated and placed on city-owned property in 1953 by the Lion’s Club to mark the site of the second Spanish Catholic mission established in the city in 1777. The site continues to be maintained by the city. Plaintiff claims that the city’s actions violate the Establishment Clause of the federal and state constitutions as well as the “no aid” clause of California’s constitution.  FFRF issued a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit and containing a photo of the disputed marker.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Enforcing Marital Agreements According to the Law of the Case

In the matter of Bienert v. Bienert, 2017 Pa.Super. 255, Case No. 17-1288 (Pa. Super. Aug. 7, 2017), the Superior Court of Pennsylvania has clarified the enforceability of marital property agreements (MSA) executed prior to the filing of a divorce but entered into while the husband and wife were separated.

As mentioned above, while the MSA was executed by the parties while they were separated, it contained rather precise language as to how their marital property is to be divided in the event of a divorce. Specifically, the MSA indicates that it “settles all rights of the parties” and, indeed, “is not contingent upon either party of both parties being granted a divorce,” but would be “made part thereof” in the event of a divorce.

After the husband filed for divorce, the wife filed a petition for alimony pendene lite and was represented by counsel when she did so. The husband opposed the aforesaid petition, arguing that the MSA was a complete and final settlement of all obligations and, as it does not allow for alimony pendente lite, the wife should not be allowed to collect it. In response, the wife argued that as the MSA does not specifically refer to alimony pendente lite, she is able to collect it. Notably, the wife did not argue that the MSA was invalid for any reason, she merely advanced an interpretation of its language. Ultimately the trial court denied the wife’s petition on the basis that the MSA is a complete and final settlement of all claims, including alimony pendente lite and no provision allowed for its collection. The trial court pointed out that “absent fraud, misrepresentation, or duress, spouses should be bound by the terms of their agreements.”

After failing to receive alimony pendente lite, the wife’s attorney withdrew his appearance on her behalf, which led to the wife filing multiple petitions to enforce the MSA regarding various provisions of property division. The Superior Court observed that all of the wife’s various petitions “were premised on the view that the Agreement was valid and enforceable.”

Separately, the husband eventually filed a petition to hold the wife in contempt for violating the terms of the MSA. In response to the husband’s petition, the wife raised defenses claiming that she executed the MSA under duress as the husband requested the wife to execute the MSA immediately after the wife had been sentenced in court for three felonies and charged with a misdemeanor and was “in rehab.” This was the wife’s first mention of duress, despite her efforts to enforce the MSA previously as described above. Indeed, even when arguing duress, she made no argument that the MSA was invalid. A short time after the husband’s filing of the contempt petition, and the wife’s filing of defenses, as described above, the wife filed a contempt petition asking for the enforcement of the MSA.

At the hearing for the above petitions, the wife raised arguments to avoid the terms of the MSA on the grounds of mistake, misrepresentation or duress. She now further claimed that she did not know the MSA applied to her divorce, allegedly believing it only applied to her separation. The trial court ruled against the wife. Thereafter, the wife hired a new attorney who filed a new petition to void the MSA for the reasons set forth above. The court subsequently denied the wife’s petition and went ahead and entered a decree in divorce. In response, the wife appealed, which led to the opinion described herein by Superior Court.

On appeal, the wife again argued that she executed the MSA against her will and that a mutual mistake of fact existed, both of which warrant the voiding of the MSA. Furthermore, as an aisde, the trial court did not hold an evidentiary hearing on her last petition which, the wife argued, was unfair as it did not give her a full opportunity to litigate her economic claims. Superior Court affirmed the trial court. In ruling against the wife, Superior Court relied on the law of the case doctrine and equitable estoppel.

The law of the case doctrine is one that “expresses the practice of courts generally to refuse to reopen what has been decided … in order to protect the settled expectations of the parties; to ensure uniformity of decisions; to maintain consistency during the course of a single case; to effectuate the proper and streamlined administration of justice; and to bring litigation to an end.” In addition, the doctrine applies, for the most part, specifically with respect to a court adhering to prior decisions within the same case. In other words, although multiple petitions may be filed in a given case, they are essentially cumulative and are not evaluated in isolation from the rest of the case. While the doctrine does not disallow a court from reconsidering prior decisions within case, it is certainly within its appropriate discretion to refuse to do so in order to maintain consistency and uniformity.

Equitable estoppel functions very similarly to the law of the case doctrine. Pursuant to estoppel, “a party to an action is estopped from assuming a position inconsistent with his or her assertion in a previous action, if his or her contention was successfully maintained.”

In applying the principles above, the court noted that the wife has taken inconsistent positions regarding the MSA throughout the litigation of the divorce matter. Sometimes she sought enforcement of it and, indeed, did so successfully at times. Other times she filed for husband’s alleged contempt of it. Still, at other times, she argued it should be void or unenforceable or was the result of mistake or duress. The case was litigated for a year and a half before the wife began questioning the validity of the MSA despite the fact that multiple other petitions were filed and argued assuming its validity. As she attempted to enforce the MSA, without questioning its validity, and the court ruled on the same, she cannot now, suddenly and late in the litigation, change course and argue that the MAS is somehow unenforceable. Not only have prior court rulings been made on the good faith of the wife’s arguments, her suddenly raising directly inconsistent arguments undermines the legitimacy of her prior arguments and the rulings thereon. Furthermore, it puts the husband into an untenable position of committing to arguments against the wife that he may not have advanced in light of the wife’s sudden reversal. It was clear the wife raised her new arguments due to her lack of success with her prior arguments.

Ultimately, then, it is vitally important for litigants and practitioners to settle on a theory of a case and adhere to it throughout as, otherwise, the court, and certainly the other party, will take notice of a party raising inconsistent and mutually exclusive arguments later in the litigation of a case as compared to its beginning. Obviously while new information is typically learned and discovered during litigation which can legitimately result in modifying one’s arguments, the position or posture of a party to an essential and known element of case, say the enforceability of a marital agreement, is something that needs to be established early on, and there is limited ability to change or reverse course once a party commits to one.

Originally published on October 3, 2017 in The Legal Intelligencer and can be found here and reprinted in the Pennsylvania Family Lawyer for its October 2017 edition (Volume 39, No. 3) (see here).

Lay Minister Sues Georgia Health Department For Employment Discrimination

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

“As reported by The Blaze, a doctor and public health expert who was dismissed from his position with the Georgia Department of Public Health within two weeks of his hiring has filed a religious discrimination suit in federal district court in Georgia.  The complaint (full text) in Walsh v. Georgia Department of Public Health, (ND GA, filed 4/20/2016), contends that Eric Walsh’s position was terminated because of the content of sermons he had given as a Seventh Day Adventist lay minister. In the sermons, he criticized Catholicism, called homosexuality sinful and characterized evolution as a religion created by Satan. The suit seeks damages, reinstatement and injunctive relief for violations of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1st and 14th Amendments. A statement from a spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Public Health said that the withdrawal of a conditional offer to Walsh had nothing to do with his religious views, but instead was triggered by a finding that Walsh failed to disclose outside employment to his prior public health agency employer in California. ”

You can learn more about this issue here.

Suit Challenges School Voucher Program That Excludes Religious Schools

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

“In a suit filed yesterday in a Colorado federal district court, parents of school children challenged the School Choice Grant Program adopted last month by the Douglas County, Colorado, Board of Education because it excludes participation by religious private schools.  In a fragmented decision, the Colorado Supreme Court last year struck down an earlier school choice program adopted by the county which included religious schools. (See prior posting.) Yesterday’s complaint (full text) in Thomas v. Douglas County Board of Education, (D CO, filed 4/19/2016), contends that exclusion of religious schools violates the Free Exercise, Establishment, Equal Protection, Due Process, and Free Speech clauses of the U.S. Constitution.  Institute for Justice issued a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit.”

You can learn more about this issue here.

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