(CNSNews.com) – Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I-R.I.) told CNSNews.com on Wednesday that his administration calls the decorated evergreen tree erected in the Rhode Island State House in December a “holiday tree”--rather than a "Christmas tree"--because that is what the tree is traditionally called.
CNSNews.com spoke with Chafee following his remarks at the National Governors Association national summit in Arlington, Va.
"You have taken some recent criticism about changing the name of the State House tree to a holiday tree," asked CNSNews.com. "Would you say that you believe in Christmas?"
"Well, first of all, get your facts straight," said Chafee. "You said that I changed the name. That is not accurate. When last year--my first year in office--when the whole--"
"But it's called a 'holiday tree,' correct?" asked CNSnews.com.
“Yes. Let's be accurate, now. Let me finish," said Chafee. "When the holiday season approached, they said what do you want to do in the State House. My instructions were very simple: Do whatever the previous governor did. No more, no less. Just do what they did. And that is what we did.
"And the previous governor called it a holiday's tree," said Chafee. "That was the tradition.
"I don’t know whether it goes back before him, the governor that preceded me, Gov. [Donald] Carcieri [R.]. Some say it goes back to the governor before him, Gov. [Lincoln] Almond [R.]," said Chafee. "But this has been the tradition of Rhode Island. I didn’t change anything.”
CNSNews.com asked: "And what in your view is Christmas?"
“Well, obviously," said Chafee, "it’s a religious holiday."
“Is it the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ in your view?” asked CNSNews.com.
“Yes, of course,” said Chafee.
“Then why not call it a Christmas tree instead of a holiday tree?” asked CNSNews.com.
“I’m just taking the same program that previous governors have done before me, nothing different," said Chafee. "If you have a question, ask the previous governors."
CNSNews.com asked: "How do you respond the Roman Catholic Church, for example, saying that you should call it a Christmas tree?"
“Now, don’t forget--I have made this point before--that these changes that have occurred are always controversial,” Chafee said.
“And I remember, in elementary school, everybody had to stand up and say the Lord’s Prayer, which was a religious prayer, obviously," said Chafee. "And that was changed in the 60s—in 1962, the Supreme Court ruled that you can’t make everybody stand up and say a prayer if they are not of that religion.
“That was controversial,the changing of the Lord’s Prayer in public schools," said Chafee.
“So, times change,” he said. “And there are many religions in Rhode Island. And everybody pays for the State House. It’s just a change in how people view public buildings and what occurs in them.
But Rhode Island State Rep. Doreen Costa, who has called Chafee “Governor Grinch,” told CNSNews.com that she doesn’t remember Chafee’s predecessor, Gov. Carcieri, calling it a “holiday tree”--nor does she recall Carcieri’s predecessor, Gov. Almond, calling the tree a "holiday tree."
“Gov. Chafee said Gov. Carcieri called it a ‘holiday tree.’ Personally, I don’t remember that,” Costa said.
But Carcieri also referred to it as a “Christmas tree,” she said.
“There was no secret what Gov. Carcieri called it. It was not a secret,” Costa said.
“Governor Chafee, his famous line, which he says about everything, is that ‘times are changing.’ He said times are changing and he wants to be politically correct. Well, with me political correctness doesn’t really work,” Costa told CNSNews.com.
This is the second year that Chafee has called the Christmas tree in the Rhode Island State House a “holiday tree.” In 2011, protesters sang “O Christmas Tree" there during the ceremonial tree lighting.
According to a Providence Journal report on Nov. 27, Chafee said: “Last year the tree-lighting ceremony turned into a big controversial event. That's just not what I want.”
That didn’t happen in 2012. Costa said this year’s tree lighting was announced 27 minutes prior to the event and that six people attended.