BY SIMON CALDWELL
CARDINAL KEITH O'Brien has spoken of his joy at the backlash at attempts to secularise Christmas.
In his Christmas message the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh said he had been waiting for society and its institutions to "recognise the Christian foundation upon which our celebrations at this time of the year are built".
He said: "This year I have a sense of hope that the Christian message at the heart of Christmas is finally being heard.
"I am hopeful that the pinnacle of politically correct posturing in recent years has passed.
"I would hope that councils, Parliaments and other public bodies will no longer feel they have to contort their language to avoid mention of the word 'Christmas' ."
He added: "I am certain that there never was a real risk of alienating or marginalising those of other faiths, as was often claimed."
The cardinal said he was heartened that Scotland's Muslim leaders had publicly wished Christians an enjoyable Christmas season.
"Such welcome words underline the true meaning of tolerance and respect," said Cardinal O'Brien.
"If members of other faiths can extend their good wishes to their Christian brothers and sisters as many have done recently, hoping that we have a peaceful and holy season, surely we must do the same to one another and to all people of goodwill."
His comments came just a week after Christian and Muslim leaders in England united to warn politically correct council chiefs to stop trying to purge religion from Christ
mas celebrations. They told town halls throughout the country that attempts to exclude Christianity from the festival risked "offending most of the population".
Muslims were not insulted by the celebration of Christmas, they said, and did not want to be blamed by the wider community for religious censorship performed in their name.
The powerful message came in the form of an open letter sent out to every local authority in England by the Christian Muslim Forum, a body set up in January by Anglican leader Dr Rowan Williams with the support of Tony Blair. The intervention was prompted by the attempts of a number of local authorities to strip Christmas of any reference to Christianity on the grounds that Britain is now a multifaith society which must be sensitive to minority groups. In Birmingham in 1998, in one of the most notorious cases, the city council decided to rename Christmas celebrations "Winterval" and in 2001 Luton called its festive lights "luminos", which comes from the Harry Potter books.
The forum's chairman, Anglican Bishop David Gillett of Bolton, and the vice-chairman, Dr Ataullah Siddiqui, said that "any repetition of public bodies and local authorities renaming Christmas, so as not to offend other faith communities, will tend, as in the past, to backfire badly on the Muslim community in particular", adding: "Sadly, we have seen that it is they who get the blame-and for something they are not saying."
The pair said it was a mistake to "exclude mention of any specific religious event or celebration in order to avoid offending anyone". "The usual result of such a policy ends up offending most of the population," they said in the letter.
At the weekend Pope Benedict XVI denounced what he called a "false secularism" which bans religious symbols from public places and excludes religious input on crucial moral questions.
While the Church does not seek to interfere with. the freedom of peoples to organise their political life, it cannot be mute in front of threats to human life and human dignity, the Pope said
He criticised an ideological form of secularism that excludes God and moral law and relegates religion to the realm of the individual conscience. "This secularism would even mean the exclusion of religious symbols from public places ...such as offices, schools, courts, hospitals and prisons," he said.