A Los Angeles-area retirement center was briefly the center of the annual war against Christmas when employees tossed out a Christmas tree, menorahs and anything else festive, declaring them to be prohibited religious symbols.
Meanwhile an elementary school banned children from the audience of its Christmas show — put on by children — and a Hawaiian atheist was gleeful that he’s blocked public school children from raising $30,000 for a Christian charity.
The nursing home ban provoked a nationwide outcry on Twitter and Facebook as well as denunciations from politicians and civil rights activists. Two dozen 80-year-old residents received 15 minutes of fame when they gathered in the lobby of The Willows retirement center with a hand-lettered sign pleading “please save our tree.” In the glare of TV cameras, the octogenarians asked the nurses to quit behaving like Scrooge.
“We’re all angry. We want that tree,” Fern Scheel told the Daily News. She has lived at the complex for nearly two years. “Where’s our freedom? This is ridiculous.”
Jewish resident Frances Schaeffer said she couldn’t understand the nursing home’s attitude. “This tree is a symbol of reverence that we can all enjoy regardless of our religious beliefs,” she said.
Max Greenis who has lived at the complex for a year with his wife, Bonnie, said he was considering withholding his rent in protest. “I’ve got grandkids and they come here and now they’ll ask, `Grandpa, where’s the Christmas tree?’ Then I’ll have to explain that someone said we couldn’t have one. What kind of message is that sending to the kids?”
“For some folks this is the only Christmas tree they’ll have all season,” resident Robert Troudeau said. “There are people overseas fighting for our freedoms and dying and we’re here fighting over things like this. It’s a shame.”
Embarrassed, the owners of the retirement complex, the multi-state JB Partners Group Inc., issued a terse statement to the press that the tree’s removal was the result of “a miscommunication,” according to the Sacramento Bee newspaper. The tree has now been restored.
Meanwhile in Yorkshire, England, parents were aghast when the local school banned children from the audience during its annual Christmas pageant, according to the Daily Mail.
In a letter to parents, Eldwick Primary School’s head teacher Janice Kershaw decreed that children and babies “will not be allowed in the concert because any background noise could make it difficult to hear the performers.” She also cited vague “fire regulations” – although the school has never had to restrict attendance in years past.
As a result, siblings were barred from watching each other perform traditional holiday music and skits. That infuriated mom Melanie Whitehead – who called it ridiculous that little sister Scarlett Whitehead and brother Samuel would not get to watch big brother Miles sing carols with his class. She branded the school “anti-children.” Likewise, Scarlett and Samuel will also be stopped from enjoying each others’ performances in a later Christmas concert.
“It all just doesn’t seem very Christmassy does it?” asked the mom. “Just seems a bit mean. People just want to enjoy Christmas. There is a line you draw and sometimes a teacher or a school thinks they are in charge completely. Children should be allowed in and if they make a noise, the parent can take them out or a teacher can then say take him out. You can’t just take the decision out of their hands, no kids in case they make any noise. Its makes no sense to me.”
Meanwhile in Hawaii, a militant atheist was expressing Grinch-like glee after he successfully blocked the local high school from holding a Christmas benefit expected to raise $30,000.
“Moanalua High School students in the award-winning orchestra have proudly raised $200,000 over the last 6 years through their annual holiday concert,” reported the Hawaii Reporter.
“These students, who have performed at Carnegie Hall in New York three times, don’t keep the money to buy new instruments, travel abroad or help their school. Instead, they send $30,000 they raise every year overseas to a well-known charity, Mercy Ships, which is currently housing American doctors in Africa on a medical mission. These doctors help the poorest of residents – some who have never seen a doctor – with urgent medical and dental needs.
“It is the students’ gift to the world during the holidays and their chance to make difference for others in need.”
However, the concert has been cancelled and atheist Mitch Kahle, founder of Hawaii Residents for Separation of Church and State, is proudly taking credit.
“The seventh annual fundraiser was set for this weekend, and students have been practicing for months to ensure their performance was perfect,” said the Reporter. However Kahle, “who has shown up to protest city hall Christmas tree lighting ceremonies as well as city council hearings and legislative events where there is prayer, has turned up as their Christmas Grinch and put a stop to the kids’ best-laid plans just hours before the show.”
Honolulu talk show host Michael W. Perry lamented what he called “an unfortunate situation in which one person writing one letter to the Department of Education has disrupted a $30,000 fundraiser going on for 6 years now, and for what reason? He claims the Constitution says there can be no involvement with school and church and there is no such statement in the Constitution.”
Donalyn Dela Cruz, director of Communications for the education department, confirmed the decision to cancel the concert was made after they received Kahle’s letter and consulted the state attorney general’s office.
Kahle has protested the police department using the words “so help me God” in their oath of office, according to the Reporter,” and got the Honolulu Police Department to remove the words from the oath in September 2002. On his web site, Kahle proclaims proudly under a cartoon poking fun at the police, that ‘God Gets the Boot!’”
“I guess it is not a career enhancing move to have your government agency sued, because you stood up to this guy, but someone needs to,” said KSSK’s Perry. “The DOE is in ‘duck and cover mode’ because of one guy and one letter. There are all kinds of organizations that would be happy to take him on and win. But he wins because they quickly capitulate. It is infuriating, this one little gnat keeps buzzing around. That one person who just uses threats can get his way and stop something that will really help people in need.”
Nevertheless, the predictably liberal Huffington Post took delight in comedian Jon Stewart’s annual lampooning of any idea that there might be any war on Christmas.
“Stewart’s mockery of it stays fresh year after year,” gushed the Post. “On Monday night’s ‘The Daily Show,’ Stewart tore apart” Fox News’ ”yearly obsession with defending the holiday.” In that segment, Stewart claimed the Fox staff doesn’t “seem as enthusiastic” about reporting on attacks on Christmas as in years past.
Such a report seemed odd since Fox was energetically spotlighting nationwide attacks on the holiday with headlines such as:
- “Militant Secularists Lose Battle to Oust Nativity Scene,”
- “City Blocks Salvation Army Bell Ringers Over Panhandling Ban,”
- “College Reverses Christmas Tree Ban,”
- “Rhode Island Statehouse Tree Lighting to Be Held After All,”
- “War on Christmas Erupts in Illinois,”
- “Christmas Tree Replaced With ‘Electric Winter Tree’”
- “Despite Ban, Virginia Rep Wants You to Have a Merry CHRISTMAS! (And a Happy HANUKKAH, Too!),”
- “U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Pays Homage to Obama – But Not Jesus,”
- “UNICEF Smears Santa as ‘One Percenter’,”
- “Thousands Rally to Save Nativity,”
- “School Reinstates Nativity, Vows to Fight Possible Lawsuit,”
- “Poll: 51% Prefer ‘Merry Christmas’ in Advertising” and
- “Atheist Display Replaces Nativity Scene in Santa Monica.”
An unexpected target this year is the cartoon character Charlie Brown — who apparently has fallen into disfavor with atheists.
That’s right, Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown, the theatrical adaptation of a Peanuts holiday cartoon children and families have enjoyed for years,” reports Dave Bohon, ”is under attack from an atheist group that caught wind that an elementary school in Little Rock, Arkansas, was going to take some of its students to see the play at a local church.”
According to the Christian Post, teachers at Little Rock’s Terry Elementary School sent a letter home warning parents that the play at nearby Agape Church might “expose your child to Christianity,” so “if you prefer your child to not attend the program, they may stay at school.”
“While the musical’s storyline, which finds Peanuts mainstay Charlie Brown in search of the true meaning of Christmas, can hardly be termed an overt promotion of the Christian faith, it does include a scene in which Linus, another Peanuts regular, recites the Christmas story right out of the Gospel of Luke in an effort to shed light on the beginnings of the now-commercialized holiday,” reported Bohon:
“Predictably, a parent or two took exception to the school taking their children to a church, and complained to the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers, a state atheist group, which ludicrously warned the school district that the innocent field trip might in fact be a violation of the First Amendment’s supposed separation of church and state clause. “We’re not saying anything bad about Charlie Brown,” Anne Orsi, a spokesperson for the atheist group, assured local television station KARK. “The problem is that it’s got religious content and it’s being performed in a religious venue and that doesn’t just blur the line between church and state — it oversteps it entirely.” (The First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….”)
In a followup prepared statement Orsi said that she and her group weren’t “making war either on religion or Christmas. Rather, this is a case of a church forming an alliance with local government to violate religious freedom.”
The pastor of Agape Church, the Rev. Happy Caldwell, noted that his congregation had sponsored similar free, kid-friendly programs in the past with no backlash about religion or First Amendment concerns. “We hope the complaint or question of a few does not override the opportunity for everyone,” he offered in a statement. “This production also included a food drive for area pantries, and we hope that purpose is not lost as well.”
Matthew Staver of Liberty Counsel, a conservative legal advocacy group, insisted that the school had done nothing wrong in providing the opportunity for its students. “It’s perfectly constitutional for the school to afford students the opportunity to go to a Charlie Brown play,” he said, “especially when they don’t require it. It’s optional; parents can opt out.” He added that no one has “the legal right to stop the school and the rest of the parents from participating in this program.”
“The war on Christmas is actually bigger than partisan tomfoolery and isn’t limited to right-wing fantasy, either,” observed Oxford University historian Timothy Stanley in a special column for CNN. “Some of it exposes genuine tensions within American politics and society.”
Stanley writes for Britain’s Daily Telegraph.
“Take the decision of the Santa Monica City Council to end the tradition of erecting nativity scenes or other displays in Palisades Park,” he noted in his CNN column. “The right to display a scene was hitherto decided by lottery, and the previous winter season atheists won 11 out of 14 spaces, which they used to erect enormous critiques of Christianity.
“In response, locals lobbied the council to establish stricter guidelines about who could take part. The council decided that would be discriminatory, but it also didn’t want to leave the system open to abuse by more offensive groups like neo-Nazis. So it decided the displays would have to stop altogether. That decision was upheld in November by a federal judge.
“The local secularists were thrilled,” noted Stanley. “‘The free thinkers … played the game of the religionists and they outsmarted them,’ Annie Laurie Gaylor told the Huffington Post. ‘They showed the Christian people of the city what it feels like to have a public park promoting views that offend your personal conscience. These views were on public property that were supposed to be owned equally by everyone.’”
However, several local churches have found a loophole in the local law and now are staffing a live nativity scene with church members. The atheists are furious, but local Christians are taking turns standing vigil in traditional pageant costumes — bathrobes for the shepherds and homemade royal finery for the Wise Men – over the Baby Jesus along with live cattle, donkeys and sheep.
“This story,” wrote Stanley, “is a classic example of the failure to reconcile different interests within a democratic society. Nobody involved was technically wrong. The secularist campaigners were right to say that the nativity displays should be open to everyone because they were on public land. Their Christian opponents were right to insist that anything erected to celebrate Christmas ought to give some priority to celebrating Christmas. And the council was right that, in the absence of consensus, it was better to allow no displays at all. The tragedy being that Gaylor’s campaign ended up destroying a perfectly wonderful tradition in the name of fairness. And that hardly seems fair.
“What’s really happening,” noted Stanley, “isn’t just a targeted, political war on Christmas but a more general battle for control of what goes on in the public sphere, especially around the holidays. Undoubtedly, some of this is motivated by anti-religious secularism. But it’s also the product of living in a crowded multicultural environment where everyone risks getting on each other’s nerves — and we have to find better ways of getting along.”