Christmas Symbols Don´t Make the Grade in U.S. Schools
Officials Banning Signs of the Christian Holiday
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WASHINGTON, D.C., DEC. 14, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Despite the rise of religious sensibilities in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Christmas is an unwelcome holiday in many U.S. public schools this year, reports the Washington Times.
Signs of low tolerance for the Christian holiday abound.
A Frederick County, Maryland, school employee was told by an administrator that employees would be banned from handing out Christmas cards in the school because cards with a Christian message "may not be a legally protected right on a public school campus."
A fourth-grader in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, was prohibited from handing out religious Christmas cards to classmates.
Two middle school students in Rochester, Minnesota, were disciplined for wearing red and green scarves in a Christmas skit and for ending the skit by saying, "We hope you all have a merry Christmas."
Two ninth-graders in Plymouth, Massachusetts, were told they could not create Christmas cards that say "Merry Christmas" or depict a nativity scene.
A teacher in Plymouth, Illinois, was warned by her principal not to read a book about Christmas to her second-grade students. The book was in the school´s library.
The superintendent of the Silverton, Oregon, school district had students remove all "religious" holiday decorations from their lockers but allowed secular decorations.
The county school board in Covington, Georgia, deleted the word "Christmas" from the school calendar after the American Civil Liberties Union threatened legal action.
"We´re getting besieged," said John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, a Charlottesville, Virginia-based organization that provides legal help in cases involving religious bias.
Whitehead said his group has received at least 50 complaints or inquiries, including the above examples, about situations in which students or teachers were told that various Christmas decorations or messages were banned at their schools.
In nearly all cases, the Rutherford Institute informed the complainants that school officials overstepped their bounds.
Meanwhile, the Catholic League, the nation´s largest Catholic civil rights organization, is protesting a policy in New York public schools that allows the display of the Jewish menorah and the Muslim star and crescent, but not the Christian nativity.
"They are discriminating against Christians; we´re contemplating a lawsuit," said league spokesman Patrick Scully told the Washington Times.
Problems arose when the Catholic League received a copy of a memo that Fran Levy, principal of the Thomas Jefferson Magnet School of Humanities in Flushing, New York, issued teachers Nov. 30.
In the memo, Levy urged teachers to "bring in Muslim, Kwanzaa and Jewish secular symbols."
"I would like to display these religious symbols equally," the principal said, apparently unaware that Kwanzaa is a nonreligious celebration.
The Catholic League was disturbed that there was no mention of Christianity.
It discovered that a Christmas tree had been put up at the school, but Levy had ordered it to be taken down.
She said the tree was too large, compared with the menorah and the crescent and star.
The Christmas tree was displayed again after the Catholic League complained to New York school officials.
But they rejected the league´s demand that a nativity scene also be displayed at the school alongside what the league described as other "religious symbols."
The league was surprised to receive a copy of a memo on holiday displays, issued by the general counsel to Harold Levy, chancellor of New York City Public Schools.
The general counsel´s office said: "The display of secular holiday symbol decorations is permitted. Such symbols include, but are not limited to, Christmas trees, menorahs, and the star and crescent."
Harold Levy (no relation to the school principal) reiterated this in a statement.
But of the league´s bid for a nativity scene, he said, "The Supreme Court has previously refused to permit erection of a nativity scene on public property."
The Catholic League immediately fired back a letter to Harold Levy, disputing his statement about the Supreme Court´s rulings on nativity scenes.
In the letter, William A. Donohue, league president, cited a 1984 high court decision that, in his words, held that "religious symbols placed next to secular symbols pass constitutional muster because the government is not endorsing religion."
Donohue noted that another high court ruling, five years later, found that a menorah placed on the steps of a Pittsburgh courthouse was permissible because it was next to a Christmas tree.
But the court said a nativity scene erected in the government complex was not constitutional because it stood alone.
Whitehead confirmed those legal opinions and said he believes the Catholic League´s arguments are correct.
Asked if Harold Levy now believes a nativity scene could be displayed in a New York public school, if it were grouped with other religious and secular symbols, Margie Feinberg, the chancellor´s spokeswoman, said Levy is reviewing the matter.