On occasion people express concerns about Christmas observances in public schools or in the public square. Some years ago, in Utah, there was a brief imbroglio resulting from a young woman’s objection to the inclusion of Christian songs in her school’s choral performance. Since this was during the Christmas season, her complaint caused a bit of a conundrum. As a compromise, the school choir’s solution was to have the singers simply hum a bar or two anytime a potentially objectionable word or phrase appeared in a song (Savior, king, Lord, etc.). What utter nonsense! Some people have taken the quest for “fairness” to even more ridiculous extremes by banning such things as Christmas cookies and jelly beans (at Easter) for having some possible religious significance that could be offensive to non-Christians.
At about the same time as the Utah affair, I read a letter to the editor of my local paper in which the writer expressed his distress with the sights and sounds of Christmas that surround everyone during the Christmas season. He wrote that the symbols of Christmas seem to be everywhere – even in common meeting areas and public places, and they make him and other non-Christians feel like second-class citizens. I can appreciate that non-Christians do not understand the religious significance of the symbols of the season. Actually, some of the traditions are more pagan than Christian, and when carried to excess (e.g., the Santa Claus legend, the excessive commercialism, etc.) believers may also become uncomfortable. Some Christians even turn against the holiday because of its often bacchanalian trappings.
Nevertheless, the season of the year in which we mark the birth of the Messiah is very precious to most of those who call themselves Christians. What I could not comprehend about the local letter writer’s attitude is why he did not appreciate and applaud the enjoyment of the season by his Christian friends, even if he himself does not accept Jesus as Messiah. Surely, unless the writer is tone deaf, he must admit that much of the music of the season is beautiful, as are the decorations. He should value the beauty and share the enjoyment of those for whom these symbols have a special meaning, even if the symbols mean nothing to him. And why should he feel second-class? Each of us is part of a minority at one time or another, and that fact doesn’t lessen our worth.
The controversy and the battle over Christmas continues. Only this week the newly appointed principal of an elementary school in Elkhorn, Nebraska, imposed a blanket ban on anything remotely related to Christmas. The ban included Christmas trees, Santas, Christmas carols, Christmas-related books, Christmas ornaments, reindeer, candy canes, as well as all multimedia materials, including Christmas movies. Fortunately, sanity rode to the rescue, and the principal herself was banned. She was placed on administrative leave.
Insofar as public schools are concerned, rather than banning religious symbols, I believe that it would be a far wiser course to teach our young public school students to understand and respect each others religious traditions and allow them to share in celebrating each other’s rich and varied cultural and spiritual heritage during the various religious festivities — Yom Kippur, Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan, Easter, and so on. I call this approach reaching for the highest common denominator; and it is the opposite of the present policy of trying to strip our public schools of anything that speaks of faith in God, an approach which essentially transforms our schools into sterile academies of nihilism and hedonism.
All people of faith have essentially the same hopes and dreams for their children and for our nation. Surely, we can work together around a table of shared values and create schools in which our youth may express their own beliefs even while being sensitive and caring for all others, no matter what their religious backgrounds.
Let us all reach out to each other with love and understanding. We should not deny to others the freedom to worship God in their own way, in private or in the public square, so long as they do not impinge on our own freedoms.