Monday, December 11, 2006

Christmas in Seattle

The Seattle-Tacoma International Airport took down its Christmas Trees after a Rabbi threatened to sue to have an eight-foot menorah included in the decorations. The airport decided that once they included one religious symbol they could be forced to include anything that was important to the residents.

Patricia Davis, president of the Seattle Port Commission, said:
"We tried to come to some accommodation or some resolution and could not," she said. "They issued us several ultimatums and finally said they would sue is in federal court. … The time deadline was 10 a.m. Friday. … We were faced with the choice of spending unknown amounts of the public's money on litigation, or, in the next few days, trying to figure out how to accommodate all the cultures in our society."
Ironically the rabbi who caused this mess is upset with the way it turned out.

The man behind their disappearance, Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky, told a Seattle newspaper he's "appalled" that the airport officials removed the trees. His goal was not to clear out Christmas, but rather to add a celebration of Hanukah. He asked the port of Seattle, which runs the airport, to build an eight-foot menorah and hold a lighting ceremony.

"Everyone should have their spirit of the holiday," he told the Seattle Times. "For many people, the trees are the spirit of the holidays, and adding a menorah adds light to the season."

[...] Bogomilsky's attorney, Harvey Grad, told the paper, "They've darkened the hall instead of turning the lights up. There is a concern here that the Jewish community will be portrayed as the Grinch."
The concern is well-placed. Despite the name, a Christmas Tree is not a religious symbol. While it represents the secular, gift-giving part of the holiday, it has no relation to Christ or Christianity in general. It is not used in any Christian rite. While most churches put up a tree, it is not always in the sanctuary and when it is, it is off to the side so that it does not obstruct the altar.

In contrast, a Menorah is directly related to a (minor) Jewish holiday. Its use is religious. Trying to force a religious symbol into a secular display causes exactly the sort of conflict that the airport is afraid of.

Once one group has sued to be included, other inevitably will follow. By insisting that the secular aspects of Christmas cannot be celebrated without including the Jews, he ruined it for everyone.

Of course the liberal line is that people who enjoy Christmas shouldn't expect it to be acknowledged on public land, anyway. The party line is that Christians have gotten a free ride through public endorsement of Christianity for too long and that all further references to Christmas should be limited to homes and churches. For examples, see here, here and here.

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