Wednesday, December 15, 2004
Another Scrooge Strikes in the Christmas Wars!
This one is in Washington state, from the King County Journal. By the way, although evergreens are associated with Christmas, the association of evergreens at midwinter predates the establishment of the Christmas holiday...and the tree's use as a holiday symbol in the US didn't become widespread until after the Civil War. There's a nice little summary of the history of evergreens and Christmas at this about.com page.
BELLEVUE -- The latest flare-up over Christmas trees in public places has longtime Bellevue chiropractor and resident Sidney Stock protesting the large tree standing in the lobby of City Hall.
The tree is a symbol of Christianity, Stock and his wife, Jennifer, told City Council members this week. They said it is inappropriate to display symbols of any religion in a public place.
Their objection follows a recent flap over Christmas trees at branch libraries in the King County Library System, which first banned trees then decided to allow them at the discretion of branch librarians.
``I think it's inappropriate,'' Stock said on Tuesday about the tree. ``It devalues our separation of religion and state.
``People have a right to put all the Christmas trees and decorations and crosses and Stars of David they choose in their home, church, synagogue or mosque, and that's fine. They can put it on a shirt or Roller blades if the want. But I deeply resent the intrusion of anybody's religion into public space.''
City spokeswoman Barbara Ramey, however, said the mostly unadorned Season of Sharing tree, as it is called, is designed to encourage people to donate gifts and cash for needy families.
She said Bellevue's policy is consistent with state and federal laws regarding the separation of church and state.
But Stock isn't buying that. The fundamental issue, he says, is that public funds are being spent, if not directly, for a religious symbol.
``It doesn't make a bit of difference. No matter if it's called a giving tree or anything else, it is associated with a Christian holiday,'' said Stock, who describes himself as both an atheist and a committed Jew.
``It has unseverable connections to the Christmas holiday. No matter how commercial it becomes, it remains a Christian holiday.''
Jennifer Stock said she grew up in England, ``where Christianity is the religion of the country. But my understanding of the U.S. is that it was to get away from all that stuff,'' she said.
``We have one religion represented in public places and none of the others, because you couldn't represent all of them.
``Our argument is we shouldn't have any religious symbols at all. It should be respectful of everybody.''
Sidney Stock said he is satisfied that some progress has been made on the issue of displaying religious symbols at City Hall.
Ramey said ``Christmas trees, though the name might imply otherwise, have been deemed a non-Christian symbol.''
She noted that each year the City Hall tree draws more than 800 contributions worth $16,000 to $25,000.
Bellevue strives to be inclusive, she said, and wants to allow freedom of expression without offending anyone.
Ramey said an employees' committee studied the issue of religious symbols this year.
In an e-mail sent to city employees in early November, the city's personnel director, Yvonne Tate, acknowledged the committee's input and wrote of the ``importance of being sensitive to the diversity of cultures and beliefs.''
She asked, via e-mail, that employees ``use discretion and sensitivity when displaying decoration symbols to ensure there is not an overt religious theme. Ideally, use lights, seasonal colors, flowers, etc., for decorations versus religious symbols.''
David Grant can be reached at email@example.com or 425-453-4237.