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Should a Hindu foundation be allowed to finance yoga instruction in California grade schools – despite vehement parental objections? Should a student production featuring cross-dressing and gender confusion go ahead in Utah despite protests from furious parents?

What rights do parents have over what their kids are taught?

Should Massachusetts teens be subjected to school assemblies in which homosexual practices are described in detail by a gay-rights group – even after parents have battled and lost in court for their rights to pull their own children out of such sessions?

Parents have a right, say New Hampshire state legislators. Parents have no rights, says a federal judge.

In fact, there seems to be a new battle shaping up as the federal courts increasingly rule against parental rights while state legislatures seem determined to give parents a choice over what their child is taught.New York’s legislature allows parents “to opt their children out of sex education classes,” writes K.J. Dell’Antonia in the New York Times. “Texas allows for the exception of students from any class or activity that ‘conflicts with a parent’s religious or moral beliefs.’ Meanwhile, New Hampshire’s law is the most far-reaching, permitting parents “to have their children opt out of anything from the teaching of evolution to the teaching of phonics.”

It was yoga that had Encinitas, California, parents up in arms.

“Should yoga sessions in public schools be subject to the same restrictions as religious ceremonies?” asks the North County Times newspaper. “A group of 60 Southern California parents thinks so – they want to pull yoga out of their school district’s curriculum.

“The yoga controversy is the latest twist on the contentious issue of anything having to do with religion in schools funded by taxpayer dollars,” notes Scott Bomboy of the National Constitution Center. “In this case, a lawyer for the parents says yoga has ties to Hinduism and that there is no place for it in the Encinitas Union School District.

Kids are our most valuable national resource.

“There’s a deep concern that the Encinitas Union School District is using taxpayer resources to promote Ashtanga yoga and Hinduism, a religion system of beliefs and practices,” the parents’ attorney, Dean Broyles, told the Times.

At issue was a $533,000 grant from the Jois Foundation, founded by the late Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, who according to the Jois website “spent his entire life dedicated to the study, practice, and transmission of Ashtanga Yoga, and was known affectionately by his many students simply as Guruji.” The website goes on to describe Jois as born in India and “studying the Vedas and Hindu rituals at the age of five.

Broyles told ABC News that the Ashtanga yoga being taught Encinitas kids is offensive. “The poses and positions are acknowledged by Ashtanga and Hindi yoga as forms of worship and prayers to Hindu deities. They have a spiritual and religious meaning behind them. It would be like a charismatic Christian organization funding classes in worship and praise.”

Parental involvement is a key to a child’s educational success

In another case in Utah, parents were upset that the local high school’s modernized version of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night included cross-dressing and a same-gender kiss.

In Massachusetts, U.S. District Judge Mark L. Wolf dismissed a civil rights lawsuit brought by parents David and Tonia Parker and Joseph and Robin Wirthlin, who had objected to their children being taught to accept and endorse homosexuality, reports Bob Unruh. Wolf ruled that the Christian youngsters need the teachings to be “engaged and productive citizens.” He ruled that it was unconstitutional to uphold “the rights of religious freedom and parental control over the upbringing of children.”

Doing so, he argued, “would undermine teaching and learning” in class.

“Wolf’s ruling is every parent’s nightmare,” says the pro-family group Mass Resistance. “Wolf makes the absurd claim that normalizing homosexuality to young children is ‘reasonably related to the goals of preparing students to become engaged and productive citizens in our democracy.’

What is more precious than our kids?

“In addition, Wolf makes the odious statement that the Parkers’ only options are (1) send their kids to a private school, (2) home-school their kids, or (3) elect a majority of people to the School Committee who agree with them. Can you imagine a federal judge in the Civil Rights era telling blacks the same thing – that if they can’t be served at a lunch counter they should just start their own restaurant, or elect a city council to pass laws that reflect the U.S. Constitution?” the organization said.

The judge concluded that even allowing Christians to withdraw their children from classes or portions of classes where their religious beliefs were being violated wasn’t a reasonable expectation.

“An exodus from class when issues of homosexuality or same-sex marriage are to be discussed could send the message that gays, lesbians, and the children of same-sex parents are inferior and, therefore, have a damaging effect on those students,” he said in his opinion. “Diversity is a hallmark of our nation. It is increasingly evident that our diversity includes differences in sexual orientation.”

In a sharp contrast to his ruling, the legislature in neighboring New Hampshire overrode their governor’s veto to enact a new law allowing parents to object to any part of their child’s school curriculum, reported John Celock, in the Huffington Post. The state House voted 255-112 and Senate 17-5 to enact H.B. 542, which allowing parents to request an alternative school curriculum for any subject to which they register an objection. Gov. John Lynch vetoed the measure, saying the bill would harm education quality and give parents control over lesson plans.

Exactly, said legislators, proclaiming that parents should have the last say.

A majority of states are siding with the parents.

Under the terms of the new law, which was sponsored by state Rep. J.R. Hoell (R-Dunbarton), a parent can object to any curriculum or course material in the classroom. The parent and school district then determine a new curriculum or texts for the child to meet any state educational requirements for the subject matter. The bill also allows for the parent’s name and reason for objection to be sealed – not made public – by the state.

And so the tug-of-war seems to be shaping up. Consistently, federal courts are ruling that parents have no rights, whereas the state legislatures are specifically giving parents those rights.

“While parents may want extensive curriculum opt-out rights, federal case law makes it clear that parents have no constitutional right to excuse their children from any part of public school curricula, even if the parents’ objection is based on religious or moral grounds,” writes Dr. Tommy Kevin Rogers at the University of North Texas. “Nonetheless, parents continue to express increasing concern and sensitivity about public school curricula, particularly sex education.

Rogers cites the 1995 case of In Brown v. Hot, Sexy, & Safer Productions, Inc., “which dealt with alleged sexually offensive remarks made at a high school AIDS assembly.” In that session, actual techniques for performing homosexual sex acts were described in detail to youngsters. When parents were furious, the First Circuit Court of Appeals stated they do not possess “a fundamental constitutional right to dictate the curriculum at the public school.”

Almost in response, noted Dr. Rogers, “many states have recognized the importance of parental rights in education and the sensitivity to curricula such as sex education. As a result, many states provide statutory rights allowing parents to opt-out of all or part of courses such as sex education and family life education.

“Eight states are even more parent-friendly by prohibiting public schools from teaching sex education to children unless the parents opt-in.

“A few states, such as New York and Ohio, provide some distinctive opt-out statutes. For instance, in New York, a parent may only opt-out of instruction that covers the prevention of AIDS. In Ohio, there are statutory rights given to parents for opt-outs from courses not seen in other states such as CPR, and personal safety and assault prevention. The procedural process is uniform with 31 states specifically requiring a written parent note in their opt-out statutes.

“Eighteen states give authority to the local education agency to develop the procedure for curriculum opt-outs.

Who will win, the federal courts or the state legislatures?

“Texas may have the most permissive curriculum opt-out statute in the U.S. Since the adoption of the statute in 1995, there has been no published litigation over opt-outs in Texas. The conclusion can be made that the implementation of the statute has not been a problem for Texas public schools. In fact, having such a permissive law may actually be helpful to school authorities when they are confronted by parents objecting to some curricular element, whether sex education, evolution, HIV/AIDS instruction, animal dissection, the celebration of Halloween, etc.

“In my opinion,” writes Rogers, “as a Texas administrator for the past 13 years, opt-out and opt-in statutes are extremely helpful from a policy standpoint. Parents are a critical part of the educational process, and it is important, within limits, to value their input into curricular decisions in public schools, or in other words, to be parent-friendly.”

“Clearly, the strategic development of opt-out statutes and regulations by state legislatures and state education departments must maintain the integrity of curricular requirements while balancing the sincere beliefs of parents with religious or moral objections.

“The ultimate motivation of public educators is to serve the public good, ensuring the product they offer is of the highest quality and providing that product to as many children as possible within constitutional constraints from individual states.”

“Most educators genuinely work for the best interests of their students and community. Parents, more than anyone else, have a sincere, vested interest in the education of their children. Both public school administrators and parents must work together to maintain a beneficial balance to sustain a democratic society. I conclude that curriculum opt-outs, within reasonable limits, provide benefits for both educators and parents.”

 “A recent plan by President Obama to address students nationwide via the Internet energized the debate over what rights parents have once their children enter a public school setting,” noted Rogers. “Airing the speech to school children created great opposition among some parents across the United States.

“The uproar over the speech was widespread, but in many states where school districts were under pressure from parents, plans were developed to let parents opt-out their children from viewing the speech.

“Some public school districts refused to allow students to watch the speech, while others welcomed the opportunity for students to hear the president.

“Independence, Missouri’s school district superintendent Jim Hinson received ‘more calls than we’ve ever had on an issue,’” reported Rogers. “Hinson confirmed that the speech would not be shown in elementary schools, but individual teachers in upper grade levels could decide whether students should hear President Obama’s speech.”

In Florida, “Sarasota County School District administrators gave permission for teachers to show the speech if it fit into the curriculum, but allowed parents to decide whether to opt-out their children.

“Wellesley, Massachusetts superintendent Bella Wong allowed teachers to make decisions on a class-by-class basis.

“In Arizona, multiple options were used by school districts’ officials. For Mesa’s public schools, parents could opt-out for their children only if they contacted the school first, the same policy used for other situations in which parents desired to shield their children from a particular part of school curricula. Other Arizona districts, such as Tempe School District and Prescott Unified School District, demonstrated opposite ends of the dilemma.

“Tempe officials required all students to watch the president’s speech with no opt-out provision while Prescott’s officials did not show the speech to any students (Parker, 2009).

“In Texas, Ector and Midland County Independent School District officials allowed the broadcast to be available to all campuses and teachers, but it was not required viewing. The communications officer in Midland Independent School District stated, ‘It’s an educational opportunity and we will make educational opportunities available to our students. We’re not saying everybody has to stop doing what they’re doing though.’”

Nationwide, 26 states now allow parents to opt out of classes without stating a reason. The District of Columbia and 17 states require parents to cite religious or ethical objections before they can pull their child out of class. Seven states have no statutes covering the issue, but three of those – Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota – said that parental rights are traditionally observed.

Will parental rights be the next battleground? As state legislatures and the federal courts appear to be squaring off, it should be interesting to see who wins.

Why is fear stalking the land? Why in the wake of tragic shootings across the country are Americans buying guns and ammunition at record rates?

Could it be that with the President’s re-election, as taxes and government spending spiral out of control, as an unpopular Congress dithers, as entertainment featuring apocalypse surges in popularity, and as the latest failed doomsday prediction is replaced by yet another, many Americans have been gripped with an uneasiness that each of us is on our own?

“Fear of crime, a potential crackdown on gun owners, a social collapse and even zombies have Americans loading up as never before,” writes Kim Peterson for MSN Money. But why? “One widely held belief is that President Barack Obama’s election spurred fears that he will crack down on gun ownership. But there’s more to it than that. People are buying more guns now for security, particularly as the economy has struggled. More Americans are getting permits to carry concealed weapons. Sport shooting is seeing newfound popularity. And you never know when economic doomsday will hit or, yes, even when zombies will attack.”

“Gun sales in Florida have surged since last week’s mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school that killed 20 children and six adults,” writes Dan Sullivan for the Tampa Bay Times. “Statistics from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement show that requests for background checks on the state’s new gun buyers began to rise on the day of the shooting.

“At least one local gun shop owner said buyers are particularly seeking assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, which were used by the shooter in the Connecticut tragedy, and are likely to become the target of gun control proposals.”

Why are gun sales booming?

Nationwide indicators suggest that the boom is not unique to Florida. The Wall Street Journal reported gun stock prices were up in the shooting’s immediate aftermath. The Washington Post reported that prices for handgun magazines were increasing on eBay and semiautomatic rifles were selling out at Wal-mart stores.

Sullivan reported the Hyatt Gun Shop in Charlotte, North Carolina, racked up more than $1 million in sales on one day for the best single-day performance since the store opened in 1959, according to Justin Anderson, director of online sales. Topping the list was the Bushmaster AR-15, the model used at Newtown that sells for as much as $4,000 and had almost sold out, Anderson said. He noted that revenue at the shop, one of the largest U.S. gun stores, surpassed even the spike just after Obama was elected president in 2008.

Speculation over stricter gun laws will continue to boost sales, Anderson told Sullivan.

“It’s kind of the perfect storm for the gun industry,” he said. “When these things happen, even though it’s sad, it does pick up sales.”

But why are people so afraid? “In the age of 9/11, the Iraq War, financial collapse, and Amber Alerts, our society is defined by fear,” writes  author Barry Glassner in The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things: Crime, Drugs, Minorities, Teen Moms, Killer Kids, Mutant Microbes, Plane Crashes, Road Rage, & So Much More . “So it’s not surprising that three out of four Americans Continued on page 2

Christmas has unique memories for international journalist Christiane Amanpour, the ABC News Global Affairs Anchor. As a small child, she remembers wonderful times, “my family with a Christmas tree and presents and a family gathering.”

Christiane Amanpour in Egypt. Photo by Shawn Baldwin, ABC News

But her father was Muslim. Her mother was Catholic. They lived in Iran. Little Christiane grew up in a clash of worlds – yet it was quieter than today. “We had Christmas off from school, but,” she notes, “remember, Iran was not yet an Islamic republic.”

During her childhood, the former Persian Empire was one of the most diverse, modern and secular Islamic nations of the Cold War era, led by an iron-fisted dictator whose family had been put in power by the CIA and was one of America’s top allies – the controversial Shah of Iran.

Amanpour – now a regular on the ABC nightly news as well as Chief International Correspondent for CNN and the nightly host of her own interview program on CNN International – remembers an Iran vastly different in the 1960s and 1970s from today’s terror-exporting, nuke-developing Islamic republic whose president annually vows before the United Nations to destroy both Israel and the United States as he ushers in Armageddon and welcomes the return of the Hidden Imam – Shi’ite Islam’s child Messiah.

“We had a Christmas tree, we decorated, we had Christmas celebration,” she recalls. Is observance of the holiday tolerated in today’s rigid Iranian Islamic society? “It may not be open and allowed,” she admits, “but in the privacy of your own home, you do what you will.”

Did her very Christian-sounding first name cause problems as a child? After all, “Christiane” is not at all Iranian nor Islamic.

“It really didn’t,” she says. “My mother is Catholic, my father Muslim and so I’ve grown up with both faiths – and I happen to be married to a man who’s Jewish. So, I have all three faiths running right through my immediate family. It taught me tolerance. It taught me that all three faiths can exist together because we have so much in common.”

Today as Iranian-built rockets pound Israeli neighborhoods, as Israeli helicopter gunships rain death and destruction on Gaza, as civil war rages just miles away in Syria and Iran’s leaders are blamed for Continued on page 2

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.

Kids perform a traditional Christmas pageant

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.”

Residents were furious over the tree ban

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.

No siblings will be in the pageant audience

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.

High schoolers blocked from raising $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.”

Kids singing … a threat to atheists?

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. 

Fox News looks at Charlie Brown ban

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.”

The stage version of “A Charlie Brown Christmas”

“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.”

High schoolers in a Yuletide Madrigal play

“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.’”

A live nativity at Santa Monica

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.

A live nativity on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court

“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.”