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Conservative politicians, media mislead on White House Easter celebration

Donald Trump's campaign and supporters are claiming US President Joe Biden banned religious symbols from the White House's Easter celebrations and proclaimed the Christian holiday Transgender Day of Visibility. This is misleading; the youth egg art contest's rules followed guidelines that have been in place for decades, and Easter -- which falls on a different date each year -- coincided in 2024 with a day that has celebrated transgender people since 2009.

"It is appalling and insulting that Joe Biden's White House prohibited children from submitting religious egg designs for their Easter Art Event, and formally proclaimed Easter Sunday as 'Trans Day of Visibility,'" said Karoline Leavitt, the Trump campaign's national press secretary, in a March 30, 2024 statement calling for Biden's reelection campaign and White House to apologize to American Christians.

<span>Screenshot from X taken April 1, 2024</span>
Screenshot from X taken April 1, 2024

The statement piled onto a barrage of attacks from Trump supporters such as Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson and South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, turning the holiday festivities into another flashpoint in the culture war shaping the 2024 presidential race.

The former president and many others cited articles from Fox News.

"Joe Biden declares that Easter Sunday is transgender visibility day while he bans Christian symbols from the White House Easter egg roll," Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik said in a March 30 X post sharing a headline about an art contest for children.

"Disgraceful. Easter will forever be the celebration of Jesus Christ’s resurrection."

<span>Screenshot from X taken April 1, 2024</span>
Screenshot from X taken April 1, 2024

Similar claims targeting Biden, the nation's second Catholic president, have circulated in Portuguese and Spanish. But they are misleading.

"As a Christian who celebrates Easter with family, President Biden stands for bringing people together and upholding the dignity and freedoms of every American," White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates told AFP in a statement.

"Sadly, it’s unsurprising politicians are seeking to divide and weaken our country with cruel, hateful, and dishonest rhetoric.”

Easter celebrations

The White House's egg design contest features creations from the children of National Guard families, according to the American Egg Board, an event partner that Congress created in 1976. The inclusion of youth submissions in recent years builds on a 47-year-old tradition in which the organization has presented a commemorative egg to the first lady (archived here).

The contest does prohibit entries that include "religious symbols" or "overtly religious themes," according to a flyer highlighted by Fox News and a submission form on the Defense Department's website (archived here and here). But the language is not new.

Emily Metz, the American Egg Board's president and CEO, said it is a reflection of the board's status as a Department of Agriculture program that promotes and provides research for a commodity -- and that the organization "has always been required to operate within federal guidelines for all of its activities."

"The Egg Board and other commodity boards are prohibited from discriminating in all programming and activities on the basis of religion, political beliefs and all other stated categories," Metz said.

"The American Egg Board has been a supporter of the White House Easter Egg Roll for over 45 years and the guideline language referenced in recent news reports has consistently applied to the board since its founding, across administrations."

Elizabeth Alexander, communications director for First Lady Jill Biden, added on X: "The American Egg Board flyer’s standard non-discrimination language requesting artwork has been used for the last 45 years, across all Dem & Republican Admins—for all WH Easter Egg Rolls —incl previous Administration’s" (archived here).

The submission guidelines for the egg art contest also prohibit designs that are inappropriate, defamatory or discriminatory, among other things.

Transgender Day of Visibility

Biden issued a proclamation recognizing March 31, the day Christians observed Easter, as Transgender Day of Visibility (archived here).

But the day celebrating transgender people has taken place March 31 every year since 2009, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Kelley Robinson, the LGBTQ advocacy group's president, said it is "disgusting that people are insinuating that this was hijacking Easter. "

Biden issued similar proclamations about Transgender Day of Visibility in 2023, 2022 and 2021 (archived here, here and here). He has also proclaimed March 31 as Cesar Chavez Day each year of his presidency, honoring the farm worker union organizer (archived here).

Easter, meanwhile, is not a fixed-date holiday -- it falls on the first Sunday after the full moon that follows the spring equinox. In 2023, Christians observed it April 9.

The last time Easter fell on March 31 was in 2013, according to the US Census Bureau (archived here). The next time will be in 2086.

"This year, March 31 just so happens to be also Easter, the date of which changes every year," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in an April 1, 2024 press conference, calling the attacks "misinformation" (archived here).

In a statement on Easter, Biden said: "Jill and I send our warmest wishes to Christians around the world celebrating Easter Sunday. Easter reminds us of the power of hope and the promise of Christ’s Resurrection" (archived here).

AFP has debunked other misinformation about US politics here.