For several years now, as the winter holiday season approaches, there's an inevitable controversy about public displays of its religious elements versus political correctness. This year, one already arose in Rhode Island where the governor is insisting on calling the Statehouse Christmas tree a “holiday tree,” which has led opponents to label him a "Grinch." Below, and in the previous posting from 2005, is a column about the fuss that I wrote in 2006.
Once again the annual debate over Christmas displays is upon us and it continues to tarnish the holiday spirit. Even though it’s only a petty war of words and ideas, it affects the right of free speech and the mandated separation of church and state.
The latter concern is important, but ignored from time to time, particularly when Christian fundamentalists toss their weight around the halls of Congress and the White House with their ultimate goal to make secular America a Christian nation.
Those crabby evangelists should wake up and smell the poinsettias. Some non-Christians feel like they’re getting the religious aspect of the holiday forced down their throats! There is no war against Christianity, as some conservatives would have us believe. Nor do the objections undermine “our religious heritage.”
One thing our forefathers recognized was the significance of freedom of religion, yet they purposely — and wisely — did NOT select a specific faith to guide this nation, particularly since many early colonists came here to escape religious persecution.
Guess the founding fathers figured the principle “do unto others as you would have others do unto you” was sufficient for civilized people. Too bad Christian conservatives don’t always act so enlightened.
Like when they lead crusades (no historical pun intended) urging Christmas displays in public places include mangers, which are obvious depictions of Christ’s birth that add a religious-theme to the display; whereas a Christmas tree, despite its name, has nothing whatsoever to do with the religious celebration of His nativity and likely offends few — except perhaps atheists.
A rabbi with a Jewish Orthodox sect in the Seattle area recently asked the operators of the SeaTac Airport to add a menorah to its display of twelve Christmas trees. But when the agency that runs the airport procrastinated, the rabbi’s attorney mistakenly, according to published media reports, threatened to initiate a federal lawsuit. The clergyman, who admits to having no animosity towards Christians or Christmas, and had no intention of suing, was simply seeking some equality for his faith in the public exhibit. He didn’t insist on an equal number of menorahs — just one at his expense for acknowledgment of his faith — which, by the way, would merely have added some holiday lights and made the sight more appealing and festive. Christmas and candles, even if they’re emitting light from a Jewish display, just go together. And he wasn’t trying to transform the Christian holiday into Chrismukkah. So, what could it hoit?
But in the dark of night, when no one was around, the boobs who run the airport recently removed all the trees, which left the rabbi looking like an anti-Christian Grinch when it was the airport’s operators who didn’t want any part of a Jewish display. Their preposterous argument was that if they added a menorah, other cultures would request equal representation. But no other denomination had ever suggested any request, except for the rabbi.
Talk about being clueless in Seattle!
Anyway, when the news snowballed, the incident caused a minor nationwide uproar that most people presumably ignored while they were preoccupied with the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping.
Incidentally, when the rabbi realized the incident was getting out of hand, he volunteered to pay to have the trees replaced. However, ten days ago the SeaTac Airport bozos, who ordered the trees be secretively removed under the cloak of darkness, had their staff restore them in the light of day.
One Port of Seattle commissioner let the rabbi off the hook when he publicly explained there was an obvious misunderstanding and noted the clergyman never asked for the Christmas trees to be removed in the first place. Nonetheless, by the first night of Hanukkah last Friday, there was no menorah, much to the chagrin of the rabbi. Though officials subsequently said they would consider adding a menorah to the airport display next year. (I’d like to be a fly on the wall at that get-together.)
If Santa Claus wasn’t too busy sorting out Christmas gifts and learned of this episode, you can bet he added a few Seattleites to his “Naughty” list.
Accordingly, any tolerant, open-minded individual — of any faith — should have no problem with generic public displays around the seasonal holidays, depictions of Santa Claus or being greeted with the phrase, “Merry Christmas,” unless of course they’re wearing a yarmulke, in which case it has no place in their traditions. But, even if you find it annoying, at least you get a day off from work to stew about it.
Those few who relentlessly insist on public displays of mangers, the Ten Commandments or other religious symbols need to mind their own business and, for Heaven’s sake, stop the bickering and start spreading good cheer!
You practice your religion in your way and I — if I choose to — in mine!
All the same, if there are going to be religious symbols as part of public holiday displays; it would be nice if there were equal representations. But without them, it ain’t necessarily naughty.To faithful and occasional readers of this column: Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa and a healthy, happy New Year!