Christmas Tree Controversy, once again
It seems like at least once each winter holiday season there has to be a controversy over a Christmas tree somewhere. This year it's in Seattle, where a Jewish group had asked for a menorah to be added to the holiday display of 14 Christmas trees in the airport. The airport authorities didn't feel they could accommodate the menorah and the potential requests from other religions to include their symbols at a time of year when airports are notoriously busy, so they took down the trees. Which, of course, has resulted in a huge outcry.
Personally, I don't have much problem with Christmas trees in airports. But at the same time, I don't think people should object to an airport deciding to go treeless. I mean, it's not like we aren't bombarded with Christmas from all sides -- every store playing slushy carols, Santas on street corners holding sale placards, malls decorated to the hilt, office holiday parties, entire radio stations devoted to nothing but Christmas music, not to mention the barrage of Christmas specials and Christmas ads on tv. One airport without trees really isn't going to spoil the spirit of the season!
And, in an atmosphere already heavily saturated with Christmas cheer, it would behoove us to consider the implications of government institutions participating in the Christmas panoply. I believe that Christmas displays in public schools, courtrooms, and other government properties probably violates the spirit of the first amendment which prohibits the government from the establishment any given religion. By catering to and participating in the holidays of one religion over others, or even of a handful of religions over others, the government is by default promoting those religions.
Since the estimates are that some 30,000 faiths exist in today's world, it is impractical to be inclusive of all religions. Clearly, it is better for the government to steer clear of recognizing (and thereby privileging) any single religion.
Further, as a white woman, I am very conscious in the way race intersects with normative understandings of what it means to be American. Religion intersects in many of the same ways. When American is white, Anglo-Saxon protestant, then black, brown, yellow, Jewish, Muslim, native spiritualist, Hindu, Sikh, Bahai, Wiccan, Shinto, Woo Doo, Buddhist, Jain, etc, etc, etc end up being "the other." And more often than not a marginalized other, whose identity is neither recognized nor valued as being fully American.
In recent years we've seen a surge in religious sensitivity. But putting up a tree, a menorah, and a star and crescent really isn't much better that just putting up the tree. It maintains a hegemony of Abrahamic religions over other faiths. Even if the circle is expanded to include Kwanza and Divali, there is a hegemony of large faith groups over smaller faith groups, some of which have substantial numbers of American born adherents. It privileges all faith groups over atheists who have no symbols that could be placed alongside the tree.
All in all, it's far better for the government to stay out of the religious celebration business.