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FIRST-PERSON: A constitutional Christmas

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–Public expressions of Christmas in America — as in the commemoration of Christ’s birth, not the “I’m dreaming of a white …” or “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire …” variety — are taking a beating this year. Schools and other public venues have taken a dim view of any representation that the reason for the current season is Jesus Christ.

Such is the climate in at least one Portland, Ore., elementary school, that a mother wrote in a local newspaper that her son, reared in a Christian environment, now feels guilty about celebrating Christmas. A school district in California has not only banned the use of the word “Christmas” by teachers, officials also have made it taboo for instructors to wear any jewelry with a Christmas theme.

In Tillamook, Ore. — a coastal community known throughout the Northwest for its cheese and ice cream — city officials ordered the removal of a lighted nativity display from a drive-up coffee kiosk. The reason — the business property is leased out by the city. The city manager told a local newspaper that he was acting on a citizen’s complaint concerning the religious display.

It is not only the loony left coast that is hostile to Christmas. School districts throughout the county no longer refer to the two-week time off during this season as the “Christmas break.” It is now known as the “winter break” or the “holiday break.” A middle school in New Jersey even canceled a field trip to see the play “A Christmas Carol,” presumably because it has the word “Christmas” in the title.

In many parts of America, a tall woody plant adorned with ornaments is known as a “holiday tree” rather than a Christmas tree. Recently an Oregon community even banned Christmas trees from public property. The irony that the Beaver State is one of the largest exporters of you-know-what trees in the world was not lost on the region’s tree farmers.

While Christmas is being pushed not only to the back of the bus, other religions are being more than accommodated. Some West Coast schools are instructing children in the fine points of Islam. There are districts that even provide time and space for Muslim students to pray. In New York, a federal lawsuit has been filed against the city’s schools claiming a district policy of prohibiting Christian displays during Christmas, while allowing other religions — specifically Judaism and Islam — to display images of their faith during religious celebrations, is discriminatory.

Enough with the lunacy already! We live in a society that is religiously plural. Therefore, it behooves all of us — public officials included — to adopt an accommodation of all religious expression, and that includes Christianity.

Unless you choose a monastic way of life and cloister yourself away from society, you will encounter people with religious beliefs different from yours. Deal with it! I have no problem recognizing and respecting an individual’s right to believe and/or practice his or her religion of choice. At the same time I have every right to express my religion, or lack thereof, and even declare why I don’t believe the way someone else does.

In the region of the country where I live, Christianity is not the dominant faith. On forms that have a box asking a person to indicate religious preference, the majority dwelling in the Northwest check “no thanks.” In this climate my wife and I must constantly instruct our children that people choose to embrace different belief systems. At the same time we make it clear that as for our house, we will serve whom we believe to be the only true God — Jesus Christ.

Public schools and/or city halls are not designed to be religious training centers. However, accommodating religious expression at any time, and especially during major religious holidays, is not only appropriate; in a pluralistic society it is right.

Teachers and students should be allowed to express themselves. If it is not your particular season — and for the atheists among us I suppose you will have to live with it — simply know that many people choose to believe differently from you and in America they have a right to express it. If that offends you, then be offended. The Constitution states clearly that “Congress shall make NO LAW respecting an establishment of religion, or PROHIBITING THE FREE EXERCISE thereof ….” (emphasis mine). This “free exercise” includes Christianity and Christmas.

Have a meaningful and Christ-filled Christmas!
Boggs is pastor of Valley Baptist Church, McMinnville, Ore.

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  • Kelly Boggs