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.

Oxford Removes Christmas from Festival, Upsets Muslims

Plans by Oxford city council to ban the word Christmas from this year’s festival celebrations are drawing rebukes from Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders for changing long-established British traditions.

“I’m really upset about this,” Sabir Hussain Mirza, chairman of the Muslim Council of Oxford, told the Oxford Mail on Sunday, November 2.

“This is the one occasion which everyone looks forward to in the year. Christians, Muslims and other religions all look forward to Christmas.”

The Oxford city center has decided to axe the word Christmas from this year’s celebration, naming it the “Winter Light Festival”.

“We changed the name to be more inclusive,” said Liz Gresham of Oxford Inspires, which has proposed the move.

“We have Diwali at this time of year and Hannukah, so these are represented as well.”

Under the new plans, lights will be turned on automatically at the beginning of the Winter Light event as part of the unveiling of the new Bonn Square on Friday, November 28.

A giant mobile of the solar system will hang from a crane in Broad Street on that night and will be lit up by a pyrotechnic display of fireworks.

“There’s going to be a Christmas tree and even if the lights are called something else to me they will be Christmas lights,” said council deputy leader Ed Turner.

“We are not Christmas killers.”

Last year, Oxford city council came under fire for asking Lord Mayor John Tanner to switch on the Christmas Lights and not stumping up cash for a celebrity.

Christians celebrate Christmas Day on December 25.

Popular Christmas themes include the promotion of goodwill, giving, compassion, and quality family time.

Religious leaders said that Christmas has been part of the long-established British traditions.

“Christmas is special and we shouldn’t ignore it,” said Mirza.

“This is going to be a disaster. I’m angry and very, very disappointed.

“Christian people should be offended and 99 per cent of people will be against this. Christmas is part of being British and we shouldn’t hide it away.”

Rabbi Eli Bracknell, who teaches at the Jewish Educational Centre, in Cowley Road, said that British traditions must be maintained.

“It’s important to maintain a traditional British Christmas,” he said.

“Anything that waters down traditional culture and Christianity in the UK is not positive for the British identity.

“Winter includes all of these festivals but it also conceals them.”

Reverend James Grote, of the John Bunyan Baptist Church, in Cowley, agrees.

“People are not offended by hearing each other’s faiths,” he said.

“Our religious community is diverse and each one should be expressed. You can only do that if you name the faiths represented.”

UK Town Council Kills Festive Decor

It is becoming a hallmark of British Christmas celebration: decades of tradition are dashed under concerns for “safety”. Town after town in the UK over the period of the past five years have lost seasonal decorations due to strict new guidelines — even though no clear past trends show that workers have ever been injured putting up Christmas decor.

Christmas is ‘cancelled’ as health and safety measures make putting decorations up too expensive for Llandovery council

A Christmas tree tradition has been chopped after town councillors were told they could no longer climb ladders to erect festive decorations.

In the past they and a contractor have put up around 60 trees in Llandovery, Carmarthenshire, on ledges over shop fronts and above the market hall.

But they have been told they risk breaching health and safety rules.

They say they cannot afford to pay for scaffolding or hire a cherry-picker to conform to the requirements.

Deputy mayor Helene Lovell said: “We will be able to put our main Christmas tree in the town square and decorate our council building but we will not be putting trees up on other peoples’ buildings.

“We have been advised that over a certain height we need scaffolding or a cherry picker.

“We are only a small council and we cannot the afford the extra costs so unfortunately we have had to most sincerely apologise to all the businesses that we will not be participating this year.”

Contactor Dave Worthington has put most of the trees up for the last three years.

He said: “I think its probably a triumph of bureaucracy over common sense.

“I suppose it’s the possibility that one of us could fall but there’s a possibility you could fall just crossing the road.”

Businesswoman Helen Greenslade said: “It’s a tradition that has been in this town for years.

“It’s up to us as businesses now to do it ourselves – I will be putting decorations up outside but this thing that the council can’t put them is stupid.”

Mrs Lovell said she hoped it would not dampen LLandovery’s festive look.

“I have every faith that most of the businesses will continue and erect their own Christmas trees.”

Wisconsin Banning Christmas Trees in Churches

A dispute over the state’s fire code ignited Thursday, with at least one fire chief saying the rules no longer allow Christmas trees in churches, hotels and other places where people gather.

But Gov. Jim Doyle promised that Christmas trees won’t be hauled out of churches this winter.

“In churches, you can have Christmas trees,” Doyle said early Thursday. “My understanding is maybe someone has put out a rumor of some kind, and I’m going to make sure the secretary of commerce clarifies that there is no ban of any kind that’s there.”

Hours later, Commerce Secretary Dick Leinenkugel sent a letter to the state’s fire chiefs telling them they have the power to set rules that allow Christmas trees in churches and other buildings.

The state updated its fire code in March to conform to national standards. Wausau Fire Chief Gary Buchberger said the changes don’t allow Christmas trees or other combustible vegetation in places where people assemble.

“The state adopted these codes and, at least in my jurisdiction, I have to enforce it,” he said.

He said he would not enforce the ban this Christmas, but would next year. He said he wanted to give churches and businesses time to prepare for the change.

Zach Brandon, Leinenkugel’s top aide, said the code gives local jurisdictions the power to set parameters that would allow Christmas trees in churches.

Part of the code explicitly bans Christmas trees from places of assembly, but another portion says that “limited quantities of combustible vegetation shall be permitted where (a local fire official) determines that adequate safeguards are provided.”

Brandon said that meant local officials could set standards – such as regularly watering the trees and keeping them away from space heaters – that would allow them to be kept in churches.

The Department of Commerce’s response was prompted by a letter from Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker (D-Weston) and four other Senate Democrats who said local authorities needed clarification on the code.

“I think anybody that wants to take away a Christmas tree at Christmastime ought to be put on Santa’s naughty list,” Decker said.

Tom Mishefske, operations manager for the Milwaukee Department of Neighborhood Services, said city churches are allowed to have Christmas trees as long as they meet safety requirements.