Merry...Um...'Holiday'

The annual December dilemma finds public institutions striving to be sensitive to all faiths

Apparently, even colors can be insensitive.

In St. Paul, Minnesota, county officials have banned the use of red poinsettias from a city hall holiday display. White ones are okay, they say, but the red flowers are associated with Christianity.

Also in Minnesota, two Rochester middle school students were disciplined for wearing red and green scarves in a Christmas skit that ended, "We hope you all have a merry Christmas."

Maybe they should have said "holiday" instead. That method seems to work at the Wisconsin State capitol where a 40-foot Balsam fir in the rotunda is not a Christmas tree. It's a holiday tree.

Charles Haynes, senior scholar of the First Amendment Center, recently wrote that tensions are common during America's annual "December dilemma." From civic buildings to schools to business offices, public institutions must balance religious holiday celebrations and political correctness. This year is no different.

"Fighting over Christmas isn't the best way to celebrate the season of 'peace and good will'—and it can get messy," Haynes writes. "But let's keep our conflicts in perspective. … In a world torn by sectarian conflict, it's a real holiday miracle that Americans of many faiths—and those of no faith—manage to live with one another as citizens of one nation. When we differ, it may end in a lawsuit—but it doesn't become a holy war."

Nevertheless, Haynes says, debates over public holiday celebrations do embitter and divide communities. John Leo, columnist of the New York Daily News, agrees. He wrote Monday that during the Christmas season, sensitivity arguments have become tradition themselves.

But, Leo argues, the type of battle is changing. "The customary struggle has been over the role ...

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April
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