ORLANDO, Fla. — With Christmas approaching, December shoppers looking for gifts should consider which retailers support the true meaning of the season and which do not, according to a pro-religious freedom watchdog group.

To help shoppers remember Christ is the reason for the season, Liberty Counsel has launched its 14th annual “Friend or Foe” Christmas campaign (LC.org/Christmas), cataloguing a “Naughty and Nice” list of retailers in order to help shoppers looking for Christmas gifts decide where to spend their money. The group details which stores give a nod to “Christmas” and which censor or avoid the words “Christmas” and “Merry Christmas.”

As the originator of the “Naughty and Nice” list, Liberty Counsel, according to its website, is a “pro-life, pro-family, international nonprofit litigation, education and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life and the family.”

With offices in Florida, Virginia and Washington, D.C., it has worked successfully on cases where Nativity scenes were being prohibited on public property and where schools and officials were censoring religious Christmas hymns. The organization also educates the public on this issue.

“In the private retail market, consumers can choose to patronize stores that recognize Christmas and refuse to buy from those that pretend it does not exist,” said Mathew Staver, the chairman and founder of Liberty Counsel and former dean of Liberty University. He has argued landmark cases before the Supreme Court.

The “Naughty and Nice” list (LC.org) keeps track of and reports on where several major retailers appear to stand on Christmas: as friend or foe; “Naughty” or “Nice”; celebrating Christmas or censoring it. Also, does the store use the word “Christmas” in advertising and promotions, or not?

 

Lists Work

Staver says the list works, and it has made a positive impact in changing retailers’ minds about Christmas shopping.

“There has been a huge change, and it gets better over the years,” he said. “The “Naughty” list is the shortest ever [this year], since we began the list. Year by year, there has been a continual migration from one side to the other.”

With the surge he sees this season, as of press time, there were 26 stores on the “Nice” side and eight on the “Naughty” side.

“Walmart is a prime example,” he said. Staver noted that at one time it was one of the biggest offenders, even renaming the Christmas tree a “holiday tree.”

Staver described how when customers were checking out and wished a cashier “Merry Christmas,” the cashiers were required by the store to respond, “Happy Holidays.” Some customers even left their goods at the checkout counter and decided not to patronize Walmart. Upon hearing shoppers’ complaints, Liberty Counsel got into the act.

“That makes a big statement to the retailer, and the next year they changed,” Staver said, showing the list can and does have a major impact. The Walmart shift happened in 2006, added Staver, and the megastore has added “Merry Christmas” to signage and advertising ever since. Best Buy is also among those who changed from the “Naughty” to the “Nice” side.

Liberty Counsel reports this year department stores like Belk, JC Penney and Kohl’s also moved to the “Nice” list for acknowledging Christmas. At the same time, some stores stick to the “Naughty” side: Old Navy and Gap are offering only generic “holiday” decorations and gifts.

In an exception to the list this year, Liberty Counsel has dropped Target from either side. Staver explained that, in the past, Liberty Counsel never used a filter other than the “Christmas” one. But Target’s decision to allow persons to use restrooms according to their gender identity tipped the scales.

“Because Target is so visible and out front with what they are doing with this policy, we made an exception,” Staver said.

 

A Second List

Another annual list is published by the American Family Association (AFA.net), based in Tupelo, Mississippi. The AFA’s “Naughty and Nice” list began when the organization saw national retailers beginning to become politically correct in substituting “Happy Holidays” for mentions of “Christmas,” yet retailers were marketing to shoppers looking for Christmas presents.

The AFA focused on the nation’s 100 top retailers, checking newspaper, TV and radio ads, emails, flyers and company websites to see, for example, if stores were including the term “Christmas” in their marketing campaigns. The first year, AFA sent emails to its online subscribers to contact Lowe’s, which was using a “holiday” sign for its trees, and tell the chain to call the trees what they are — “Christmas trees.”

Within 24 hours, Lowe’s had changed its signs to advertise “Christmas trees.”

“There are secular forces in our country that hate Christmas because the word itself is a reminder of Jesus Christ,” Ed Vitagliano, AFA’s executive vice president, explains on the AFA website. “They want to eradicate anything that reminds Americans of Christianity. That is why it is important to remind governments and companies to keep the word ‘Christmas’ alive. AFA wants to keep Christ in Christmas and Christmas in America.”

The AFA, as well as Liberty Counsel, reviews the websites, media advertising and in-store signage of top national retailers to help shoppers know which companies are Christmas-friendly.

According to Vitagliano, “If a company’s ad has references to items associated with Christmas (trees, wreaths, lights, etc.), it was considered as an attempt to reach ‘Christmas’ shoppers.”

The AFA rates companies “Nice” if they use “Christmas” in most of their advertising media as part of the company’s philosophy. That includes greeting shoppers with “Merry Christmas.” If companies use the word “Christmas” hardy or infrequently, they are rated “Marginal.” “Naughty” ones do not use “Christmas” anywhere.

AFA uses four divisions. The “Five-Star” rating goes to companies — seven this year — exceptionally promoting and celebrating Christmas. Next on the list are “Nice,” then “Marginal” and, last, “Naughty” stores. On the AFA list, “Naughty” numbered 18 at press time. The greatest percentage — more than 55 — fall into the first three categories.

While both lists normally coincide, this year there are a couple of differences, where a company is thus far on AFA’s list as “Naughty” while on the Liberty Counsel list it is designated as “Nice,” or vice versa.

Staver is looking into the reason, since the lists are frequently monitored to see if any retailers change their policies midstream, yet at the same time there is a possibility a local manager is not following the national chain’s policy. Staver said consumers using the list should keep Liberty Counsel posted if they spot changes.

“They can help us be on top of the progress of these stores,” he said, citing the example of Sears, which changed its ads in the middle of the advertising cycle and moved from “Naughty” to “Nice.”

 

Advice to List-Users

Seeing the difference the lists are making the last few years, Staver offered simple advice: The more people using the listings, the better. “It really makes a difference. No question about it,” he said.

But don’t stop there, he added. “You have to let people know you appreciate what they do,” and “let them know [if] you’re going to shop at their competitors.”

Staver said, “If you decide to shop or not shop somewhere, and you don’t let them know, no one knows. Your comments — good or bad — make a change in the retail market.”

 

Joseph Pronechen is a Register staff writer.