Planned Parenthood Gift Certificates Upset Christmas Fans

At the Planned Parenthood of Indiana, ’tis the season of giving health care and contraception. But it’s a sentiment that opponents of abortion and artificial birth control say denigrates the holiday season.
The network of 35 clinics across the state announced it is offering holiday vouchers for basic health care services “or the recipient’s choice of birth control method.”

The organization decided to offer the vouchers because so many people are uninsured or are putting off health care because of prohibitive costs, said Betty Cockrum, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Indiana. Nearly 800,000 Indiana residents don’t have health insurance, she said.

Planned Parenthood’s annual exams for women, which include Pap tests and breast exams, typically cost $58. The vouchers can be used for the exams, but also for insurance copays and for medication.

Opponents of abortion said Planned Parenthood was making a “mockery” of the holiday season.

“The tragedy is that almost 6,000 fewer children will be celebrating a first Christmas this year because they were aborted in Planned Parenthood’s Indiana clinics,” said Mike Fichter, president and CEO of Indiana Right to Life.

Planned Parenthood of Indiana operates abortion clinics in Indianapolis, Merrillville and Bloomington.

“They deserve coal in their stocking, not money for lethal gift certificates,” said Sister Diane Carollo, director of the Office for Pro-Life Ministry for the Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

But Cockrum said the vouchers were about giving basic health care, and potentially lifesaving care.

“Birth control is the best way to avoid unintended pregnancy. Avoiding unintended pregnancy is the best way to reduce abortion” rates, Cockrum said. She added that her organization performs abortions on only about 5,000 of the 92,000 patients it sees annually.

The vouchers could be applied to the cost of an abortion. “I certainly don’t think anyone would consider giving it for that purpose,” spokeswoman Kate Shepherd said.

The organization dispenses more than 500,000 units of birth control each year including pills, condoms, diaphragms, spermacides and morning-after pills, she said.

Indiana Health Commissioner Dr. Judy Monroe applauded the idea, calling it a “really a meaningful gift.”

Spokeswoman Diane Quest of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America said the Indiana branch is among a handful of its 99 affiliates that currently offer gift certificates or have done so in the past.

The gift certificates can be purchased in increments of $25 online or for any dollar amount at some Planned Parenthood of Indiana health centers.

Florida College Bans Christmas

Christmas is just 30 days away, but Santa Claus won’t be stopping by Florida Gulf Coast University this holiday.

He’s not allowed on campus.

FGCU administration has banned all holiday decorations from common spaces on campus and canceled a popular greeting card design contest, which is being replaced by an ugly sweater competition. In Griffin Hall, the university’s giving tree for needy preschoolers has been transformed into a “giving garden.”

The moves boil down to political correctness.

“Public institutions, including FGCU, often struggle with how best to observe the season in ways that honor and respect all traditions,” President Wilson Bradshaw wrote in a memo to faculty and staff Thursday. “This is a challenging issue each year at FGCU, and 2008 is no exception. While it may appear at times that a vocal majority of opinion is the only view that is held, this is not always the case.”

Bradshaw’s directive struck a chord with FGCU employees. The Staff Advisory Council received 44 anonymous comments on the issue; all were against the ban on holiday decorations.

“It says people are very passionate about this,” said council president Ruth Rodrigues, who also is director of auxiliary services. “The holidays are a joyous time, and they want to express themselves.”

The council voted Monday to send administration a letter outlining employees’ comments.

In Bradshaw’s memo, he said the decision was not an “attempt to suppress expression of the holiday spirit.” Staffers will be permitted to display holiday decorations on their desks, but not on their office doors or in common spaces. Traditional workplace Christmas parties are not an issue at FGCU.

“We don’t generally have Christmas parties here,” said Audrea Anderson, associate vice president for community relations and marketing. “There are end-of-the-semester parties or end-of-the-calendar-year parties. They are certainly not related to anyone’s beliefs.”

Bradshaw plans to convene a committee in 2009 to address future methods of sharing traditions throughout the year.

In 2001, then-President William Merwin lit the university’s official Christmas tree, a 22-foot Colorado blue spruce. Children from the college’s child care center and university choir performed traditional carols.

Junior Marilyn Lerner, a 20-year-old resort and hospitality management major from California, said she’ll miss seeing Christmas trees in the Student Union.

“I think they’re pretty,” said Lerner, who is Jewish. “It’s just a Christmas tree. I don’t mind.”

Neither does junior Stephanie Tirado, 20, an education major from New York.

“Christmas is no longer just a religious holiday. It’s commercialized now,” said Tirado, who is Wiccan. “Why don’t they just add a menorah then?”

Former Christmas Parade Fails to Draw Crowd

An annual parade of boats on a Long Island river that dropped “Christmas” from its name has apparently lost lots of supporters.

About 1,000 people showed up Sunday for the Patchogue Boat Parade of Lights. That’s 500 fewer than usually showed up when it was called the Patchogue Christmas Boat Parade.

Brookhaven-based fireworks company Fireworks by Grucci dropped its sponsorship after the Greater Patchogue Foundation removed “Christmas” from the parade’s name. The change was made after some residents complained the name wasn’t inclusive enough.

Grucci vice president Philip Butler opposes the secularization of Christmas. His supporters encouraged area residents to stay away from the parade on Patchogue River.

Organizers say the parade still was a success.

2008 Naughty List of Those Who Won’t Say Christmas

Liberty Counsel has published their annual list of naughty and nice retailers. The list shows those who use the word ‘Christmas’ in their advertising versus those who don’t. Liberty Counsel’s annual list is meant to highlight those who work to profit from the season but refuse to acknowledge the modern roots of the holiday for fear of causing offense to those who only secularly celebrate the season. Here are the naughty:

Albertsons
Amazon.com
Banana Republic
Bloomingdale’s
Boscovs
Circuit City
Costco
Comp USA
CVS Pharmacy
Dick’s Sporting Goods
Disney
Gap
Giant Eagle Pharmacy
Honey Baked Ham
Home Depot
J Crew
Kmart
Lane Bryant
Lowe’s
Menards
Nordstrom
Old Navy
Office Depot
Roaman’s
Sears
Shopko
Sprint
Staples
Walgreens
World Market

Nice List:
Bath and Body Works
Bed Bath and Beyond
Best Buy
Belk
Big Lots
Blain’s Farm & Fleet
Bronners.com
BuyAmerican.com
Cabelas
Chik-fil-A
ChristmasPlace.com
ComputerGear.com
Dillards
Dollar Tree
Family Dollar
Garden Ridge
Hallmark
Hobby Lobby
Hollister
JCPenney
Joann Fabrics
Kay Jewelers
KB Toys
Kohls
LL Bean
Linens and Things
Lord and Taylor
M&M/Mars Candies
Macy’s
Michaels
Mills Fleet Farm
Mrs. Fields
Office Max
Overstock.com
PetSmart
QVC
Sam’s Club
Smithsonian
Stein Gardens & Gifts
TJ Maxx
Tree Classics.com
Walmart
Williams Sonoma

Atheist Group Questions God in Christmas Ad Campaign

You better watch out. There is a new combatant in the Christmas wars.

Ads proclaiming, “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake,” will appear on Washington, D.C., buses starting next week and running through December. The American Humanist Association unveiled the provocative $40,000 holiday ad campaign Tuesday.

In lifting lyrics from “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” the Washington-based group is wading into what has become a perennial debate over commercialism, religion in the public square and the meaning of Christmas.

“We are trying to reach our audience, and sometimes in order to reach an audience, everybody has to hear you,” said Fred Edwords, spokesman for the humanist group. “Our reason for doing it during the holidays is there are an awful lot of agnostics, atheists and other types of non-theists who feel a little alone during the holidays because of its association with traditional religion.”

To that end, the ads and posters will include a link to a Web site that will seek to connect and organize like-minded thinkers in the D.C. area, Edwords said.

Edwords said the purpose isn’t to argue that God doesn’t exist or change minds about a deity, although “we are trying to plant a seed of rational thought and critical thinking and questioning in people’s minds.”

The group defines humanism as “a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms our responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity.”

Last month, the British Humanist Association caused a ruckus announcing a similar campaign on London buses with the message: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

In Washington, the humanists’ campaign comes as conservative Christian groups gear up their efforts to keep Christ in Christmas. In the past five years, groups such as the American Family Association and the Catholic League have criticized or threatened boycotts of retailers who use generic “holiday” greetings.

In mid-October, the American Family Association started selling buttons that say “It’s OK to say Merry Christmas.” The humanists’ entry into the marketplace of ideas did not impress AFA president Tim Wildmon.

“It’s a stupid ad,” he said. “How do we define ‘good’ if we don’t believe in God? God in his word, the Bible, tells us what’s good and bad and right and wrong. If we are each ourselves defining what’s good, it’s going to be a crazy world.”

Also on Tuesday, the Orlando, Fla.-based Liberty Counsel, a conservative Christian legal group, launched its sixth annual “Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign.” Liberty Counsel has intervened in disputes over nativity scenes and government bans on Christmas decorations, among other things.

“It’s the ultimate grinch to say there is no God at a time when millions of people around the world celebrate the birth of Christ,” said Mathew Staver, the group’s chairman and dean of the Liberty University School of Law. “Certainly, they have the right to believe what they want but this is insulting.”

Best-selling books by authors such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have fueled interest in “the new atheism” — a more in-your-face argument against God’s existence.

Yet few Americans describe themselves as atheist or agnostic; a Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life poll from earlier this year found 92 percent of Americans believe in God.

There was no debate at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority over whether to take the ad. Spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said the agency accepts ads that aren’t obscene or pornographic.