John Leo

A fairly new tactic in the Christmas wars can be called the sensitive person?s veto. In 2000, the city of Eugene, Ore., banned Christmas trees on public property, then allowed firefighters to put up a tree on Christmas Eve and Christmas, with the provision that if one person objected, the tree had to come down. The next year, Kensington, Md., banned Santa Claus from a tree-lighting ceremony because of two complaints. So the city?s most sensitive person was, in effect, allowed to make policy.

The sensitivity argument?that any reference to Christmas at all might make someone feel bad?is responsible for the spread of the anti-Christmas campaign from religious symbols to the purely secular and harmless trappings of the season, including red poinsettias, red-and-green cookies, holiday lights, and Rudolph the reindeer. Santa Claus, originally based on a Christian saint but no more religious than Kermit the Frog, is considered much too divisive and hurtful to non-Christian students in many schools. The principal of Braden Middle School in Florida said, ?You won?t see any Christmas trees around here. We keep it generic.? Some principals and teachers around the country even ban the word Christmas. In Rochester, Minn., two girls were reprimanded for saying ?Merry Christmas? in a school skit.And though Christmas trees are considered secular when they are useful in warding off Nativity scenes, the word Christmas is often removed by panicky officials, thus producing multicultural trees, holiday trees, community trees, care trees, and giving trees. The White House still has a Christmas tree, but Congress has a Capitol Holiday Tree. Accommodating all traditions is a worthy goal. But a broad movement to erase the word Christmas is an extraordinary development in a culture that is more than 80 percent Christian. How much more of this is the public willing to tolerate? William Donohue, head of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, points out that an elementary school in New Hampshire declared that December is a gift-giving month but couldn?t explain why or how it got to be a giving time of year, since it refused to use the word Christmas.

The South Orange/Maplewood, N.J., school district banned religious Christmas songs, even in instrumental versions. In Florida, an elementary school concert included songs about Hanukkah and Kwanzaa but offered not a single note of Christmas music. A recent winter parade in Denver looked very much like a Christmas event, except for one small thing: Every reference to Christmas was banned. Unless believers and religious-liberties groups begin to push back, the anti-Christmas trend will prevail in the public square.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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