Tuesday, December 21, 2004

We Wish You A Merry Whatsit

T’is the season to be secular – and litigious.

In Kirkland, Washington, a high school principal this year refused to allow a production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” because Tiny Tim, the character in the tale who melts the stony heart of Scrooge, was incautious enough to pray, “God Bless everyone.”

The “G” word rarely has been in favor among secularist censors, and this year was no different.

On most occasions, one may expect an eruption of righteous anger when books are banned by school systems that object to ribald language or offensive messages. When Huckleberry Finn was dumped from libraries by timid administrators unnerved by the “N” word, a tortured cry went up from defenders of the First Amendment.

But not this time.

Florida and New Jersey school districts have banned Christmas carols altogether, perhaps fearing the litigious American Civil Liberty Union lawyer hiding under the school nurse’s bed.

In Somerville Massachusetts, the mayor formally apologized to those offended by a press release that called the town “holiday” party a “Christmas” party. “Holiday,” incidentally, is an abbreviation of “holy day” which, one supposes, might well offend the mayor of Somerville. But perhaps the connection had escaped the mayor, the word “holiday” having been sufficiently secularized.

People, not all of whom are religious fundamentalists, are beginning to notice that the new puritans are mostly secularists driven to banning books, plays and music by ACLU phobia.

Friends of the First Amendment may suppose -- wrongly – that the ACLU would be on the side of musicians and book readers whose constitutional liberties are constricted by the new puritans and against the gathering tide of secularists that eventually – It’s only a matter of time; already this year mayors have banned the playing of (italics) instrumental (end italics) versions of carols – may take to the courts to prevent churches from ringing their bells on Sundays, lest the sounds disturb the peace of slumbering atheists.

On some occasions this year, Christians have refused to be thrown to the secular lions.

When Jim Basey, president of The Downtown Denver Partnership, refused to allow carolers in the annual Parade of Lights, Faith Bible Chapel retaliated by sending 1,000 carolers to the parade route an hour before the event. The carolers entertained the crowds by singing to them such banned tunes as “Joy to the World” and “The First Noel.”

Faith Bible Chapel had applied for permission to include a float of carolers in the parade and was refused because, Basey explained, “Our policy, which we have applied consistently for years, is to not include religious or political messages in the parade -- in the interest of not excluding any group.”

Come again?

How is it possible to enforce a policy of non-exclusion by excluding Christian groups and denying them a place in the parade?

So all embracing was the parade committee’s policy of non-exclusion that it had approved a float sponsored by Two Spirits, an American Indian group that considers homosexuality to be holy, prompting critics to charge that the committee had violated its own rules.

While partnership member Susan Rogers said the policy prohibited “overtly religious symbols,” thus disallowing Christmas hymns and “Merry Christmas” signs, Basey had issued the following contradictory statement: "The parade includes performances of Christmas songs, and parade participants saying 'Merry Christmas,' 'Happy Hanukkah,' and other holiday greetings.”

This is the stuff of which litigation is made. So, the good people of Denver could not have been too surprised when former U.S. Attorney Mike Norton, the husband of Colorado Lieutenant Governor Jane Norton, said he would be happy to represent Faith Bible Chapel in a lawsuit against the parade committee.

Some Christmas far down the road, people may be ashamed to play Scrooge to Tiny Tim’s exuberant “God bless everyone.” The media, traditional defenders of the First Amendment, may someday realize that the authors of the Bill of Rights could not have intended to grant in one clause of the First Amendment a right that was abolished in the same amendment. And someday policies will not be established that exclude Christians bearing tidings of great joy during Christmas because parade organizers “do not wish to exclude any group.”

Someday all this will come to pass, and the secular lion will lie down with the religious lamb.

But not this year.

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