White House Rejects Gay Judicial Nominee for Challenging Use of Phrases ‘Under God’ and ‘Merry Christmas’

You may recall that in February, New York Senator Chuck Schumer nominated Daniel Alter, then National Director of the Civil Rights Division of the Anti-Defamation League, to serve as a judge in the Southern District federal court. The White House has rejected the nomination, the Washington Blade reports:

Alter But informed sources told the Washington Blade that the White House rejected Alter’s nomination because of remarks he reportedly made regarding a case challenging inclusion of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. In addition, the White House reportedly objected to remarks that Alter made suggesting that merchants not wish shoppers “Merry Christmas” during the holidays.

In a 2005 article published by Cybercast News Service, Alter is quoted as saying that a general holiday greeting is more appropriate and inclusive for retailers as opposed to saying “Merry Christmas.”

“It seems both from a business … and a community perspective, that if merchandisers were going to do that … they would try to wish those in the community who may not share in celebrating Christmas a happy holiday as well,” Alter is quoted as saying.

“Our diversity has made us great and will continue to make us great and ['Merry Christmas'] undermines both the holiday spirit as well as the message I think Americans should be sending to each other,” Alter reportedly continued.

The 2005 quotes were apparently reprinted in a 2008 CNS article that is stored in the archives on the organization’s website.

More at the Blade.

Alter would have become the first openly gay man to sit on the federal bench if confirmed.


  1. TANK says

    LOL! I’ve said it before: an openly gay man will be president of the united states before an atheist…

    This puts a damper on things… Just another reason to not vote for big O again.

  2. candideinnc says

    It is perfectly appropriate to have evangelical, superstitious Bible-thumpers on the Court, but “God” forbid someone who doesn’t PRETEND to believe all that bull hockey.

  3. Brian in Texas says

    He wouldn’t have passed a confirmation hearing in the senate; that’s why he was rejected. There’s enough republicans in the judiciary committee to play parliamentary games to hold up nominees forever. They have been doing it since Obama took office. You almost have to have no record to get through a confirmation hearing; and certainly nothing controversial. It’s a shame.

  4. mcNnyc says

    not sure why Andy didn’t ALSO post what was reported in the same WashingtonBlade Article:

    “Schumer has since recommended the nomination of another openly gay man, J. Paul Oetken, to become a district judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.”

  5. jexer says

    I know I should be supportive and all, but dammit… I don’t take offense or feel excluded if someone says “Happy Chanukah” “Happy Quansa” “Merry Christmas”, and they sure as hell shouldn’t take offense if I reply with “Merry Agnostica” or “Happy Year Ending” or any of my other salutations.

    I’m all for inclusion and PC-ness… but suggesting that we should embrace generic “Happy Holidays” is, I think, the >WRONG< way to celebrate and honor diversity.

  6. says

    If good candidates are being held up, I suppose this good candidate with anti-religious comments would be held up, too. (Imagine what the next Supreme Court justice will have to be to get through a remarkably more Republican and emboldened Senate?)

    Obama is just going to have to recess-appoint all of his hanging-out-there nominees at some point.

    Love the Schume. I hope he’s the next Senate Majority Leader even if Harry wins.

  7. Vincent says

    The BLADE article is interesting because apparently it’s disputed whether Alter made the comments at all. I have to agree with Bobbie Joe and Tank – why does Obama always act like he LOST he election?

  8. aj says

    I’m not so concerned with the religious aspect of his supposed statements, however, the freedom of religion is protected under the first amendment, clumped together with the other freedoms of expression, essentially giving the populace a “voice.” Constitutionally, we all have every right to express our own religious beliefs (or non-religious beliefs) as we see fit. There is no protection however, FROM religious beliefs or the speech of others. You are not constitutionally protected from being offended by the free speech or even the religious sentiment of someone else. In fact, the first amendment almost guarantees that this will happen at some point in your life. The problem with Alter’s comments is that it shows he may not grasp that concept, or is possibly in favor of limiting speech purely because someone else may not want to hear it. I’m not really a religious person at all, but I’m also not offended when someone wishes me a “Merry Christmas.” I just usually smile and thank them, fully aware that it is their right to do so. I don’t think any of us want someone sitting on a federal bench who is in the least bit ok with the idea of limiting speech of any sort…

  9. mstrozfckslv@yahoo.com says


    depending on one’s views on Lincoln, you could say both a gay man and an atheist have already been president in the USA


    “The bible is not my book nor christianity my religion, its dogmas are too convoluted” Abraham lincoln.

    anyway; yeah in the modern era an openly gay man is more likely to be president than an atheist

  10. mstrozfckslv@yahoo.com says

    PS matthew

    yeah, there is precedent in stepping (Byrd) aside to let someone else be majority leader. Schumer has more of a spine than reid and i would enjoy his standing up to repub obstructionism as vs reid’s lubing himself and saying please repubs can we have another

  11. 24play says

    Poor Andy. Doesn’t know the difference between a nominee and a recommended nominee. And can’t be bothered to quote the paragraph in the Blade that reads,

    “But based on those reported statements, the White House AND SCHUMER determined that Alter wouldn’t be able to reach the 60-vote threshold needed in the Senate to overcome a filibuster of his nomination.”

    (That Chuck Schumer, such a despicable homophobe!)

    But then, I guess when one has an axe to grind, as Andy does, facts and details like those can easily get lost in the shuffle.

  12. Bobo says

    Alter is not an Atheist! He is part of the ADL, which is a Zionist demagoguery organization! Have we learned nothing from groups like Goproud? Alter may be gay, but that does not exclude him from the club of assholism!! Read up more about him! Schumer is another asshole that is not a real friend of the gay community, check out his record and who is funding him!

  13. Jon B says

    @AJ: Your point is valid, but it is misplaced in this argument. Alter was not saying he didn’t believe in the RIGHT to say those things, just that from a business stand point, it was probably wise to switch to something more PC. This was also said while in a position with the ADL, a Jewish organization. I do not think that those comments would tend to support the accusation that he would mandate such a stance. Clearly that would violate the First Amendment.

    As for the first bit about the inclusion of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and on US currency… there is a good case to be made that those words violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. The words were originally added in 1954, during the height of McCarthy era fear of Communism. People at the time considered communism Godless, and therefore those opposed to communism were God-fearing. Some argue that no official religion is envoked by “under God” because it doesn’t refer to a specific religion’s God, but the same argument was considered invalid by the Supreme Court in School Prayer cases. so it’s an viable question.

  14. says

    Both “under God” and “Merry Christmas” are like red flags in front of a bull for the culture warriors on the rabid right. Schumer and the administration were unfortunately right to withdraw the nomination.

    I WISH we could have someone like that passed, but alas, in our religion-obsessed country it’s impossible.

  15. Christopher says

    BOBO: thank you. I too find it odd that everyone on this blog assumed that Alter is an atheist when his remarks clearly suggest that the offense he takes at being wished a merry christmas is because he celebrates other holidays and his affiliation with the ADL would indicate that these are jewish. None of this should matter one iota when it comes to assessing his fitness as a candidate, but such are the times we live in.

    But, since we’re on the topic, the end of the year approaches and I can look forward to another month or so of tentative awkwardness around the holidays. I live in a building on the upper west side of manhattan that is predominantly jewish. I am the most lapsed of lapsed catholics. When the jewish high holy days come around I always wish my neighbors a happy new year, and during the festival of lights I wish them a happy hanukah, especially if they have kids. I don’t expect a merry christmas in return; personally I don’t celebrate the holiday or mark the day. But, if I wish another resident who I know celebrates a merry christmas I can feel bodies stiffen all around me on the elevator or in the lobby. I refuse to say the pointless and mudane greeting ‘happy holidays’ so I’ve learned to just not refer to christmas at all. It’s a very strange phenomenon.

  16. Joe says

    Umm… it is pretty clear that he wasn’t rejected because he was gay, but because he has made statements that seem “anti-religious” and ultimately, he would have been too risky to put up and I’m not sure he would have even survived the committee hearings with all the repubs and blue dogs there. And getting 60 votes would have been near impossible. It is fine for him to have those views, but anyone who wants to have a career on the federal bench knows there are some things you can’t say (unfair, but true). He didn’t.

    Further, he worked for the anti-defamation league, a group that is supposed to fight bigotry but opposed the Park 51 cultural center. I’m not sure with that on his resume I would have been keen on hiring him either.

  17. TANK says

    “Umm… it is pretty clear that he wasn’t rejected because he was gay, but because he has made statements that seem “anti-religious” and ultimately, he would have been too risky to put up and I’m not sure he would have even survived the committee hearings with all the repubs and blue dogs there. And getting 60 votes would have been near impossible. It is fine for him to have those views, but anyone who wants to have a career on the federal bench knows there are some things you can’t say (unfair, but true). He didn’t.”

    This is hardly less repulsive…that you don’t get that is a damn shame.

  18. ratbastard says

    The under God part I don’t really have a problem with; it was actually only added on currency and the pledge of allegiance in the 50’s.

    He, human rights committees, courts have zero business telling businesses or private citizens they shouldn’t say Merry Christmas. That’s obnoxious, petty, and gives the enemies of ‘progressives’ potent ammo.

  19. mstrozfckslv@yahoo.com says

    How does being jewish and or a member of the Anti-defamation league equate to not being atheist?

    Though i will admit that I assumed he was an atheist and maybe should have waited for more info

    but Uhm LOL the rational movement is chock full of Jewish Atheists. Many great atheists thinkers and writers have come from Jewish backgrounds, in fact quite a few polls show a huge % of atheists coming from Jewish backgrounds

    How could being an atheist bar someone from working for/with and or supporting the anti-defamation league? I would argue that atheists tend to be more active in “charitable”/ ethical causes due to wanting to improve life here and now as vs people who daydream about dem golden streets and wispy cloud fairytales

  20. Jon B says

    @Bobo: The ADL is not a “Zionist Demogoguery Organization,” it’s a Jewish organization that exists to eliminate hate. Also, Chuck Schumer is a friend of the gays. Honestly, based on your statement I really want to spit on you. Acting holier than thou about bigotry, and then clearly evincing your own bigotry against Jews. Who exactly do you consider friends of our community? I’ll tell you this much. Chuck Schumer votes for our rights consistently, and often champions them. Furthermore, of any of the major religions, Judaism is easily the most accepting of gays. Reconstructionist, Reformed and Conservative branches of Judaism accept gay marriage. Israel, a country which you clearly dislike, allows open military service, has national employmend non-descrimination legislation for gays, allows gay adoption, extends almost all marriage rights to gay partners, and recognizes gay marriages performed out of state which grants all of the same rights as heterosexual marriage. But I doubt they are a friend to the gays… no… obviously not.


  21. Randy says

    Yet more proof that Obama has pretty words (About LGBTs and atheists) but he fights us at every turn, just like most Republicans.

    And in a country founded on the separation of church and state, it is very concerning that a candidate for ANY position would be disqualified for suggesting a non-discriminatory holiday greeting, or for recommending the original inclusive pledge.

    Shame on you, Obama.

  22. Bobo says

    The ADL is a Zionist demagoguery organization that is NOT chock full of Atheists! The ADL is an organization that is interested in promoting a religious state, and religious nationalism. Hardly an organization that is going to be drawing a large number of logically thinking Atheists.

  23. Bobo says

    @JonB Great argument! I believe that Zionism, and any form of nationalism, or fundamentalism is a bad thing, and point out that just because this guy doesn’t want people to wish him a merry christmas does not make him an atheist, and so that means I am an anti-semite who should be spat upon! Seems you learned a lot from your history!!

  24. ChimChim says

    Another reason not to vote for them. Helping them lose this election sends the best message: without progressive support, they cannot hope to win and must become more inclusive of progressive policy or else.

    Unfortunately, they’ve insulated themselves into the infrastructure pretty well, again. It’s going to take awhile to clean them out.

  25. Bobo says

    @JonB…just one more thing about the ADL as of 10/14/10 this is the top ten list from the ADL as anti-jewish groups:
    The Top 10 Anti-Israel Groups, as identified by ADL, are:

    Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER)


    Council on American-Islamic Relations

    Friends of Sabeel-North America

    If Americans Knew

    International Solidarity Movement

    Jewish Voice for Peace

    Muslim American Society

    Students for Justice in Palestine

    US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation

    These are organizations that are NOT against Jewish people, but are critical of the policies of the state of Israel. So I think that shows that the ADL is not about eliminating hate, but to help promote the government of Israel and its policies.
    One can be critical of the government of Israel, and NOT be anti-semitic…it really is possible despite what the ADL, and AIPAC would have people believe!

  26. TANK says

    Al awda? It’s a hate group with ties to neo nazis, trash. You moonbats have no credibility on the israeli/palestine conflict. Ignore the gibbering antisemite.

  27. mstrozfckslv@yahoo.com says

    Bobo the clown

    where did I say ADL is chock full of atheist Jews?

    I said the rational movement/ atheism is chock full of jews with many atheist intellectuals coming from Jewish backgrounds

    I also asked how does being atheist preclude someone from donating, supporting, working for ADL?

    Is ADL perfect? Is israel perfect? Are Jews perfect? show me 1 organization in the world that is perfect….one nation…one person who is perfect. Ur unhinged

    LOL from someone who has never claimed to be sane to think ur unhinged = u need to go talk to a therapist and get some meds

  28. CoMo'mo says

    I know longer take umbrage when people wish me any sort of holiday greeting. There are more important thing sto steam up about. I usually respond with “Happy solstice” when that’s seasonable. I DID wish a woman Happy Valentine’s Day as we walked past the up and running full drag Christmas display at Lowe’s this morning. I enjoy pointing out that January 1 is the Feast of the Circumcision but long for something a bit snappy to use. Saying “Tuggy, Snippy!” hasn’t worked.

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