Colorado Christmas Debate Now Targets Free Speech

Only in politically correct Colorado could a raging debate about Christmas now become the focus of free speech from public officials on a county website.

Online comments by Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden about putting up a Christmas tree outside his office’s administrative building could have ramifications beyond the holiday season.

Commissioner Kathay Rennels said the time has come to discuss whether the county’s Web site should be used to air personal opinions, as Alderden does through “The Bulls-eye” Web page. Its subtitle is “Straight shooting from the sheriff.”

Alderden’s latest commentary, posted Wednesday, roundly criticized the Fort Collins’ Holiday Display Task Force and its recommendations to the City Council on the use of seasonal symbols and lighting on city property.

The piece includes references to Alderden’s religious beliefs and the statement, “Most of the members of the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office are Christians and celebrate Christmas.”

“The Bulls-eye” might be getting “close to the line” in terms of what’s appropriate when posting information on a taxpayer-funded Web site, Rennels said.

“The subject matter aside, I think it’s time to check in with elected officials and taxpayers on if they are OK with this,” Rennels said. “I think we need to have that conversation.”

Alderden said he uses the page, which started in the spring, to keep the public informed on law enforcement issues. He’s used the site to expound on a variety of issues, including how the commissioners fund public safety.

Other elected officials use the county’s site to express opinions and promote pet issues, he said.

“I think it’s a perfectly legitimate way to communicate with the public,” Alderden said.

But Howard Cohen, a member of the Holiday Display Task Force, said he found the Web site and Alderden’s comments and religious references “disturbing.”

“I don’t think this should be on a government site,” he said. “He’s entitled to his opinion; but when something like this shows up on larimer.org, it makes it look like it’s the county’s opinion.’’

Cohen said Alderden’s contention that the task force is trying to “take Christ out of Christmas” is unfounded. The group’s recommendations are meant to recognize the diversity of religious beliefs and holiday customs of community residents, Cohen said.

Putting up a Christmas tree, as Alderden plans to do with decorations donated by residents, is not an issue, Cohen said. But the sheriff should not promote a single religion if it’s on public property, he said.

Alderden’s online posting mentioned no religion other than Christianity and no holiday tradition other than Christmas. But he said he has no problem displaying symbols from faiths other than Christianity.

“If somebody wants to put up a menorah, I’m fine with that,” he said. “We’re trying to be inclusive, not exclusive.”

The county does not have a written policy on holiday decorations, County Manager Frank Lancaster said. Department heads and elected officials have discretion in what may be displayed but are asked to be sensitive to cultural issues.

A Christmas tree does not raise constitutional issues as long as the display “does not cross the line” by showing preference to a specific religion, Lancaster said.

Given the ongoing controversy over holiday displays on public property, Rennels said the county may have to come up with a written policy.

Principal Cites Parental Objections to Christmas Play

An elementary school principal’s decision to cancel a class field trip to see a Christmas play in downtown Boston has sparked controversy in one Boston-area town.

Principal Evander French Jr. canceled his school’s seventh-grade’s field trip to see “Miracle on 34th Street” after some parents complained that the play focused too much on Santa Claus, the Boston Herald reported.

French, the principal of the McCall Middle School, decided against letting the students attend the Dec. 19 performance at the Stoneham Theater, saying some parents complained that it didn’t tie into the school’s curriculum and parents could take their children to see the play on their own.

The Herald reported that many parents are not happy, even though they were reimbursed for the $20 ticket, saying if other parents didn’t want their children to attend the play they didn’t have to go.

The principal said he received an e-mail last week saying the play’s Santa theme was “objectionable” to some in the school community.

Fort Collins Decides Colored Christmas Lights OK

Colored holiday lights, Christmas trees and wreaths will stay.

The Fort Collins Museum will add a multicultural display and the debate over appropriate city holiday displays will move forward.

By a 6-1 vote Tuesday night, the Fort Collins City Council rejected key recommendations of a citizen task force in adopting a plan that combines some task force suggestions with current city policy and some new wrinkles.

The hybrid plan allows for colored lights and Christmas trees and wreaths on the exterior of city buildings and other city property, but allows for only secular displays and messages in building interiors. Religious and cultural symbols are allowed under the plan at locations other than the museum but only if part of a larger, educational piece of artwork.

The new holiday display policy also stipulates the addition of a cultural display on or around museum grounds that could include nonsecular symbols.

The policy doesn’t take effect until next year and does not include Old Town Square.

Council member Wade Troxell, who cast the lone “no” vote, said he couldn’t support the display policy because it didn’t do enough to address the issue of being as inclusive as possible.

“I think we still have a way to go because we didn’t address (how to include) the menorah in city displays (outside of the museum),” Troxell said. “That is still out there, as are other questions about an inclusive Christmas display. I think the museum is fine in terms of offering a comparative religious display but doesn’t capture what the citizens of Fort Collins want.”

Some members of the 15-seat citizen task force, which made recommendations last week to ban colored lights and Christmas tree displays from the exterior of city buildings, called the outcome a victory for Fort Collins.

“I think it’s a positive step forward,” task force member Karen Schwartz said. “My only disappointment is that conversation on broader displays within the interior of buildings to include multicultural (aspects) was not discussed.”

After the task force, which was appointed in August by the city manager to review the city’s holiday display policy and recommend modifications, released its report and recommendations Nov. 6, the council asked for a hybrid version that tied portions of the task force’s work with the city’s current policy.

Primarily, the council stripped task force language that called for white lights and “secular winter symbols not associated with a particular holiday” on most of city property and building exteriors – save for the museum – and replaced it with allowances for colored lights and trees, specifically including Christmas trees.

The council ignored task force suggestions that would have given department directors the ability to erect cultural or religious displays inside city buildings and instead adopted a plan that would allow white or colored lights, secular winter symbols, trees, written secular messages and community artwork.

More than 40 people spoke to council during the public comment period before the vote, with all but a handful of them speaking out against the task force recommendations.

Some said Christmas is a tradition in Fort Collins, and any attempts to limit it through restrictive holiday display policies would be wrong.

“I am pleading with council to afford Christmas the dignity it deserves,” said Neil McCaffrey, adding he didn’t believe attempts to include Christmas in multicultural displays was right. “Don’t lump (Christmas) together with other celebrations, because it diminishes the dignity of the (holiday).”

Mayor Doug Hutchinson, the subject of much criticism over the issue in recent weeks, said the issue has hurt Fort Collins’ reputation and image.

“I think this is a very strong success story,” Hutchinson said after the vote, calling the multicultural display at the museum a positive new step for Fort Collins. “I think there is going to be a residual effect from this, though. The traditional Christmas displays were never in jeopardy, but it came across that way because of misinformation in the media.”

Hutchinson later explained that he meant that it was never the council’s intent to put Christmas displays in jeopardy by forming the task force.

“But, of course, the task force recommendations put Christmas in jeopardy,” Hutchinson said.

Fight Brewing in Pennsacola Schools Over ‘Christmas Break’

For decades they’ve called it “Christmas Break” in Pennsacola, Florida. But the school board there is suddenly in a heated debate over the possible change in the calendars to the term “Winter Break”.

“It has been ‘Christmas Break,’ and then it has been ‘Winter Break,’ and I know last year it was ‘Christmas Break,’ ” Alan Scott, assistant superintendent for human-resource services, said after the meeting. “It just depends on the wishes of the board and the superintendent when we bring this issues forward. I know this superintendent and board tend to have the presence of Christmas break as their preference.”

Bergosh found the issue to be larger than a semantic preference.

Bergosh excused himself from the meeting several hours early, but he later said during a phone interview that for many years the vacation was called “Christmas Break” and that he thought the name needed to be restored.

During the workshop, School Board Attorney Donna Waters told the board she soon plans to meet with an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, a group that protects the rights of all Americans including religious rights of students.

“I brought it up because it is something we need to consider as we decide what we’re going to call things,” she said. “In an abundance of caution, I want to make sure we don’t do something that’s not inclusive.”

Liberty Counsel’s Naughty List of Retailers Shunning Christmas

Liberty Counsel, an advocacy group supporting traditional family values, just published their 5th Annual Naughty & Nice List highlighting those retailers avoiding use of the word “Christmas”. The aim of the campaign is to draw attention to the slow decay of support of Christmas as a religious celebration in America. Here are this year’s offenders:

1. Ace Hardware
2. Banana Republic
3. Bloomingdale’s
4. Circuit City
5. Dick’s Sporting Goods
6. Gap
7. Giant Eagle Pharmacy
8. Hollister Co.
9. Home Depot
10. J. Crew Outfitters
11. Kmart
12. Kohls
13. Lane Bryant
14. Marshalls
15. Nordstrom
16. Office Max
17. Old Navy
18. Petsmart
19. Sears
20. Shopko
21. Sprint

Retailers Cave to Pressure a Week Before Black Friday

The American Family Association  won what they consider two key battles in the War on Christmas just a week before Black Friday 2007. Targeting Lowe’s Home Improvement Centers and Petsmart for being anti-Christmas, their campaigns to spread the word have resulted in immediate backpeddling by both retailers.

In seasonal advertisements and catalogues Lowe’s has been derided in the media for referring to classic Christmas trees as “Family Trees”. Internet backlash was swift and severe against the published political correctness of Lowe’s who decided mid-week to issue a statement claiming the more than 33 printed references were a “publishing error during the creative process (duh).

Petsmart is reportedly responding on Monday to AFA claims that less than 30% of their ads make use of the word “Christmas”, substituting the word “holiday” instead.

Santas Get Last Laugh in Ho-Ho-Ho Debate

A California-based temp staffing agency banned the phrase “Ho-ho-ho!” for Santas they were employing in the South Pacific. Their training of new Santas suggested the term could be taken as an offense to women, especially in light of the Don Imus flap earlier in 2007.

A wide-spread media campaign brought attention to the policy only after experienced Santas employed by the agency protested and refused seasonal assignments in New Zealand.

Shopping center representatives, who initially backed the policy, are now saying the phrase is an “important Christmas tradition”.

Public Fervor Displays More Than 2000 Nativity Scenes

Putting Christ back into Christmas is the theme underlying a display of nativity scenes that has grown to more than 2,000 in the past three years.

“It’s growing because of the people, not because of us. It’s like a groundswell,” said Flora Nabrotzky, the organizer of the 11-day exhibit.

“I think it’s a wonderful barometer that people care about spiritual things by supporting this and showing their nativities and for a few days at least, the commercial part of Christmas isn’t as strong.”

Nativity scenes spanning the spectrum of cultures and ethnic diversity take over Walkerton’s Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Nativities in the displays range from the size of a thimble to one that’s larger than life set up outside the church.

“When we started three years ago we had 1,003. Last year we had just over 1,500. This year the floodgates are open. There are over 2,000. People keep bringing them right up until before we open and we still put them up,” said Nabrotzky, a floral designer who takes a week off work each year to set up the display with the help of a handful of volunteers.

Nabrotzky said even she is surprised at the growing interest in the event, which continues to attract submissions from farther afield.

This year’s display includes nativities from more than 135 churches from Cambridge to Kincardine, Wingham to Owen Sound and points in between. “We’ve actually received nativities from all over Ontario and some from the United States,” Nabrotzky said.

A wide variety of cultures are represented – from Asia and South America to Egypt, Europe and First Nations.

In the Inuit crÅ che, carved from black soapstone, the shepherds are replaced by polar bears, seals and walruses all bearing gifts while the lone wise man offers a large fish to the mother of the new-born Christ.

The nativity scenes are made from materials ranging from coconut shell, crystal, Popsicle sticks and pewter, to soapstone, glass, straw, gingerbread, barn board and ivory. Some are more than 100 years old and provide glimpses into the lives of people who created them. Several are hand-carved, one-of-a-kind family heirlooms.

The most colourful are those created by school children from simple materials such a construction paper and glue or pipe cleaners.

Joan Borho of Formosa has three nativity scenes from her collection of 13 in this year’s display.

“Over the years I saw one and said ‘Oh, that’s nice’ and bought it and saw another one and bought it. I was surprised at how many I have. Probably a lot of other people have more in their homes than they realize,” said Borho.

The displays are alongside what is almost a path that winds its way through the rooms and along the halls of the small church.

Nabrotzky said the design for this year’s display, which is bathed in the glow from thousands of tiny lights, came to her in a recurring dream.

“I kept having the same dream over and over again and I just reproduced what I saw,” said Nabrotzky. “The idea really came from God.”

BBC Claims Global Warming Killed Christmas Tree

They’ve got a big tree they string lights on every year in a festive pre-holiday event. That tree is now dead and the BBC clearly labels global warming as the cause:

Christmas will be coming a little late to Belfast this year after a mini global warming disaster struck the city’s Christmas tree.

The 45ft Norway Spruce tree from Parkanaur near Dungannon, was cut down last week.

However, it quickly began to split in two.

A council spokesman said: “The wet summer and unseasonally dry autumn had a devastating effect on the tree but we hope to source another immediately.”

Time’s running out for the council though, the big switch on of the Christmas tree lights is due to take place on Tuesday, November 20. About 15,000 people are expected to attend.

Ho, Ho, Ho Bad for Kiddies

There are concerns that a New Zealand company may try and ban santas at certain shopping malls from saying “ho ho ho”.

Recruitment company Westaff has instructed its santas at Australian malls to tone it down or say “ha ha ha” instead.

It believes “ho ho ho” might scare children.

Santas are now being urged to go on strike if the ban is imposed.

It is feared the same company operating in New Zealand will follow suit.

Associate Professor John Kirkland of Massey University has studied the effects Christmas has on children.

He believes the recruitment company has lost the plot, and hopes Westaff New Zealand doesn’t follow in the footsteps of its Australian division.

Live Christmas Trees Under Attack as Mold Source

(WebMD) Live Christmas trees may bring more than the fresh pine scent of the holiday season into homes, according to a new study.

The study, which was presented at The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Annual Scientific Meeting in Dallas, examined the relationship between mold growth on live Christmas trees and poor indoor air quality.

This study grew out of a consistent and dramatic increase in asthma and sinus complaints among patients every winter, which is especially pronounced during the holiday season, notes study researcher John Santilli, MD.

“As mold growth is common in the area surrounding outdoor foliage, we hypothesized that the presence of a live Christmas tree may be contributing to indoor mold,” he says.

Indoor Mold Levels Rise
Twelve times during a two week period, researchers measured mold counts in a room containing a live Christmas tree, beginning when the tree was brought inside and decorated. The tree was located 10 feet from a heat vent, and the indoor temperature was maintained at between 65 and 68 degrees.

For the first three days, counts remained at 800 spores per cubic meter of air, then began escalating, rising to a maximum of 5,000 spores per cubic meter by day 14, when the tree was taken down.

Mold allergy affects up to 15 percent of the population, according to Santilli, and people with sensitivity to certain molds commonly experience nasal, eye, and throat irritation; nasal stuffiness; and headache. Additionally, there is a well-documented link between asthma attacks and molds, and the added risk of invasive fungal disease among people with compromised immune systems.

Santilli says normal indoor air has a mold level of 500-700 spores per cubic meter; anything higher indicates a source of mold growth inside the building.

“Ventilation systems and water-damaged areas have long been recognized as sources of mold, but we need to continue to search for new and unique sources of contamination,” Santilli says.

Avoiding Indoor Mold
“Our study demonstrates that a live Christmas tree can be a significant source of mold spores. Therefore, we recommend families with allergies in general and mold allergies in particular not keep a live Christmas tree in their homes for more than a few days at most, and remove it sooner if there are signs of increased allergy symptoms,” Santilli says.

Rebecca Gruchalla, MD, PhD, chief of allergy at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, says the relationship between live Christmas trees and a rise in indoor mold spores comes as no surprise, particularly since most Christmas trees are cut well in advance of the holidays and stored in a moist environment before being placed on a lot for sale. Then they’re then taken home and placed in water too, she says.

Gruchalla notes that artificial trees and ornaments collect dust in storage and, therefore, are another source of allergy irritation.

She suggests taking both live and artificial trees outside and shaking them out before bringing them inside to decorate.

A New Kind of Attack on Christmas

The War on Christmas goes to a shocking and deadly new level in what has become a disturbing tradition each holiday season since 9/11: threats from Al Qaeda to terrorize US shopping malls.

This week the FBI issued a warning that Al Qaeda may be preparing fresh suicide bomber attacks against “soft targets” such as packed shopping malls.  

The alert said al Qaeda “hoped to disrupt the U.S. economy and has been planning the attack for the past two years.”

Red and Green Lights Under Fire as Religious

The City of Fort Collins, Colorado is no stranger to the War on Christmas. For years they have publicly debated whether or not Christmas decorations should be allowed on public property. Their debate has become so sharply tuned that by November 20th of this year they will decide whether to ban red and green lights as “religious symbols” in displays on public property, according to WorldNetDaily.

“Some symbols, even though the Supreme Court has declared that in many contexts they are secular symbols, often still send a message to some members of the community that they and their traditions are not valued and not wanted. We don’t want to send that message,” Seth Anthony, a spokesman for the committee, told the Fort Collins, Colo., Coloradoan.

He said the recommended language does not specifically address Christmas trees by name, but the consensus was that they would not fall within acceptable decorations.

What will be allowed are white lights and “secular” symbols not associated “with any particular holiday” such as icicles, unadorned greenery and snowflakes, the task force said.

Amazingly, the special task force is reportedly made up of a coalition of religious and business leaders in the community.

Nativity Scene Loses the Vote in Michigan

Voters in Berkley, Mich., turned down an amendment to the city charter on Tuesday that would have allowed a nativity scene to return to the lawn outside their City Hall.

The charter amendment failed by a 55 to 45 percent margin with 4,136 votes cast in total, according to unofficial results from the city clerk’s office.

Some residents of the town of more than 15,000 were outraged that the city and a local clergy association cut a deal with the American Civil Liberties Union to move a crèche, which had been displayed on public property for about 25 years, away from government grounds and onto a patch of grass outside a church.

The display spent its first Christmas at its new location last year, but those who want to return the nativity scene to public property petitioned to get the measure on Tuesday’s general election ballot.

“They didn’t try to resolve it; they just wanted to take our nativity away,” said Georgia Halloran, 62, who has led the drive to return the crèche to its former location. “People are very upset that the ACLU came in and told us to get rid of our nativity and the city capitulated to them.”

City officials say they weighed many options and made the decision to move the exhibit with the help of the local clergy association — whose members are Christian and Jewish — and the ACLU. If they’d left the display alone, according to the city, they would have had to make it more secular to comply with laws about religious displays on government property. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a nativity scene can be constitutional on public property if secular decorations are incorporated.

So instead, the city donated it to the clergy group, which plans to move the crèche from parish to parish around the community.

“After much discussion and review, we decided the best place to put it was with the clergy,” said Berkley City Manager Jane Bais-DiSessa. “This way, it would be placed in an area where it was more visible to the public and get more exposure.”

Halloran said the crèche was built and given to the city by a local resident in the late 1970s, and has been in front of the town City Hall for much of the 37 years she’s lived there.

She disputed the argument that the nativity is more visible outside the church, along one of the town’s main highways, than it was in its old spot.

And in her opinion, the display was already “secular” — incorporating non-religious holiday symbols including Santa Claus and his sleigh. She said residents who want it moved back to its original place have offered to add more if necessary.

“It’s always had secular items,” she said. “We have a Santa Claus, Christmas trees, banners on our poles. It’s a city that looks like it’s celebrating Christmas. We also had a Star of David.”

But Bais-DiSessa said those other pieces weren’t close enough to the crèche to be acceptable to the ACLU and regulations governing religious displays on public property. She said the city decided to move the scene to protect its integrity as a Christian display.

“The majority of the City Council are of the Christian faith. They love the nativity. It’s difficult for them, too,” she said. “We didn’t want to make it secular. It would compromise the meaning — and this during the Christmas season.”

If voters had passed the measure to place the crèche back on the City Hall grass on Tuesday, it would have created another complication: The display belongs to the clergy association. The group would have had to donate the nativity scene to the city, or the city would have had to buy another crèche, and laws prohibit taxpayer dollars from being used for religious artifacts, Bais-DiSessa said.

“The city doesn’t own it anymore,” she said. “We would have to ask someone else to donate another crèche and make it secular. It’s tough.” She said a lawsuit might be in the offing if the voters had approved the measure to return the display to public property.

The town of Berkley has about 15,500 residents; 11,596 of them are registered voters.

“It has divided our community, sadly. I just want everyone to realize that whatever decision they make, it will be difficult for everyone,” said Bais-DiSessa, who added that she’s neutral on the subject.