Linda Chavez

The Christmas trees are back up at Sea-Tac Airport in Seattle after they were taken down in response to a threatened lawsuit. But that doesn't mean the bah-humbug season is over yet.

Every Christmas, the politically correct and anti-religion crowd gets into Scrooge mode, trying to deprive the great majority of Americans from celebrating Christmas in traditional fashion. The ACLU files lawsuits demanding crches be removed from public property. School districts change Christmas vacations into winter breaks and ban carols from holiday assemblies. Even some retailers have gotten cold feet about mentioning the holiday, with Wal-Mart instructing its employees that "Merry Christmas" should be replaced with "Happy Holidays." It would be laughable if it weren't so offensive.

This year's "war on Christmas" story had an unlikely genesis. A Seattle rabbi simply asked Sea-Tac Airport to display a Menorah to celebrate Hanukkah, which begins at sundown this Friday. But the Port Authority, which runs the facility, got nervous, worrying that displaying the symbol that celebrates the Jewish victory over the Seleucid king of Syria in 200 B.C. would somehow be a government endorsement of religion.

Nonsense. The story of the Maccabees' revolt against Antiochus IV -- who persecuted the Jews and looted the Temple -- is a cultural and historical celebration as well as a religious one. The airport could easily have accommodated the rabbi's request, but chose instead to panic and remove the Christmas trees, which are certainly a secular, not religious, symbol. And the rabbi didn't exactly help the matter by threatening to sue the airport if it didn't display the 8-foot lighted candelabra.

Many of us grew up in a different time, when civic centers and public buildings routinely featured not just trees, snowmen and Santa Claus, but Nativity scenes that depicted Mary, Joseph, the Baby Jesus and the Three Wise Men. No one was being asked to subscribe to belief in the divinity of Christ because of these displays, but it was an acknowledgement that the overwhelming majority of Americans celebrated the birth of this man.

Should non-Buddhists be offended when cities build pagoda structures with public money, since these buildings are simply replicas of shrines to honor Buddha? Should Christians, Jews and Moslems take offense when Chinese restaurants feature statues of Buddha at their entryways? Should public buildings be forced to remove any Persian rugs that feature the prayer rug design, in fear that not doing so is somehow an endorsement of Islam?

Should public museums remove any paintings that depict religious figures or themes? Should public orchestras and choruses be forbidden from playing The Messiah this year? Should corporations similarly worry that they shouldn't be making donations that would be used to promote cultural celebrations of religious themes, in fear that they will antagonize non-believers or those of different religious faiths?

Some people, no doubt, would answer yes to all these questions. But imagine life in such a society. Instead of a nation that celebrates religious freedom, we would become Taliban-like, banning all expressions of religion in the public square.

Surely common sense should prevail here. The First Amendment, of course, guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. The Supreme Court bears much of the fault for taking us down this path over the last several decades. We have become such a litigious society that anyone who feels slighted in any way rushes to court to settle his grievances.

Thankfully, the Sea-Tac came to its senses and put back the 14 trees it unwisely took down. And Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky withdrew his threat to sue, opting, wisely, to work with the airport to get the Menorah put up for next year's Hanukkah celebration. Wal-Mart still encourages its employees to wish everyone a Happy Holidays, but it fired a customer service representative who sent e-mails telling those who complained that Christmas has its roots in "Siberian shamanism."

The United States may be increasingly religiously diverse, and we should be respectful of minority religions and of those who have no religious affiliations or beliefs. But those who do not share the religious views of the majority are not entitled to ban Christianity from the public square.

If they succeed, what will happen next? Remember the Taliban blowing up the ancient Buddhas of Bamiyan? Will we see the anti-religion police roaming our museums and concert halls on some future crusade? This, not a few Christmas trees or even crches on public property, could become the true threat to the First Amendment.


Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .

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