Return of the Nativity

Perhaps Christmas is a holiday of sorts for some atheists and agnostics, too. Instead of mailing Christmas cards, they merrily send letters to local governments threatening them to tear down holiday displays.


That's what happened in Charleston, S.C. Fire Station 12 in West Ashley erected a Nativity scene near the firehouse, and a single citizen out of the neighborhood's 54,000 population complained that the creche supported Christianity.

So a lawyer from the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation dashed off a letter to Charleston city officials, warning them that the display crossed a rigid line between church and state. The FFRF wanted the creche removed, and last week the city complied.

But then the real majority spoke up, flooding the city with phone calls about how ridiculous it was to dismantle the display.

So on Tuesday the Nativity scene returned to its rightful place - but this time accompanied by other symbols of December holidays, including a Hanukkah menorah and a Kwanzaa kinara candle holder. Charleston's legal experts say that the new display is allowable under federal-court precedent.

But the FFRF still is grumbling about it. "Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor says that the change is a sham but that the display now appears to fall within the law," the Associated Press reported.

Let's get things straight. These firefighters weren't accosting people on the street, gripping them in headlocks and forcing them to accept Christ as they stare at a Nativity scene. According to firefighters, they merely erected a creche on adjacent private property - with the neighbor's consent.

And that is a linchpin: private property. If the neighbor is OK with it, it can stay. You may not like the candidate on the campaign sign erected in your next-door neighbor's yard. But it's that neighbor's property. So the sign stays.

Apparently Charleston city officials couldn't immediately provide proof to the FFRF that the property in question was indeed private. But now that for the moment things seem to be ironed out, the firefighters should feel free on future Christmases to put that Nativity right back where it was and, heck, maybe even throw in a couple of extra camels.

But the FFRF's toil isn't confined merely to Christmas. "At times," the FFRF writes on its Web site, "it seemed that whenever we pushed one of organized religion's grasping tentacles back behind the state-church wall of separation, two sprouted hydra-like elsewhere."

And you thought your place of worship extended welcoming arms. Nope. To this group, they're "grasping tentacles" to avoid at all costs, and Christmas apparently is scarier than Halloween. Good grief.

It was wrong to force the firefighters to take the Nativity scene down. It would be just as wrong to kick down an atheist's front door and force him to hang a cross on the wall, light a menorah or kneel on a prayer rug.

Our ancestors came to this country - and people immigrate here to this day - to enjoy the freedom of openly expressing their chosen religions, not to have their beliefs shunted aside by blinkered bigots with hair-trigger intolerance.

And if the mere sight of an innocent, passive, serene Nativity scene is enough to make you blow your top - well, maybe the Nativity scene isn't the problem.



Sat, 01/20/2018 - 00:00

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