Christmas is usually a time to bring goodwill to all. But a few political leaders are turning this year’s celebration of Christ into a time to debate the  role of Christianity in public life.

Not all of them do it well.

One case comes from a few Republican contenders on the campaign trail in Iowa for the Jan. 3 caucus. This earliest of presidential contests is heavily influenced by the state’s conservative Christians seeking a candidate who reflects their interests. That has compelled many GOP contenders to tout their credentials as Christians, promise a restoration of Christian values, or even to campaign in churches.

Newt Gingrich, for example, denounces “a secular, atheist system of thought” in colleges and media while saying he wouldn’t be comfortable with an atheist in the White House. Rick Perry decries that public-schoolchildren “can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.” He challenges the Christians to take their values into the public arena.

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