Church Members Dress Like Jesus to Support Christmas

Members of a church in Kansas City, Ks., are protesting the secularization of Christmas by dressing like Jesus at their jobs, malls and restaurants.

Pastor Kelly Lohrke advised parishioners of the Praise Chapel Christian Fellowship to wear at minimum a crown of thorns and a sash or robe during the week leading up to Christmas.

“A lot of businesses and people are saying that they have to say, ‘Happy Holidays’ and ‘Season’s Greetings,'” church receptionist Chelsea Johnston told “They’re not allowed to say ‘Merry Christmas.’ It makes us upset because that is the holiday and it goes against our freedom of speech.”

The 600-member church posted videos on YouTube of congregants wearing Christ-like garb in public — which they say has led other churches across the country to consider similar demonstrations.

Johnston said some members have gotten more elaborate with their costumes, growing beards and wearing their hair long.

The reactions have been mostly positive, according to Johnston, but the protesters have gotten their share of stares from passersby.

“We have had some really strange looks – people who are like, Why are you guys doing that?” she said. “I haven’t heard any reports of people being offended. … We’ve gotten pretty good responses.”

Man Complains of 4th Grader Candy Cane as Religious Symbol

A school’s candy cane decoration is drawing criticism from a man who says it constitutes a religious display.

Fourth-grade student Jenna Baginski and her father, Tom, dressed up pillars at Charlotte Central School’s entrance in red & white stripes. So, local resident William Gerson wrote a letter of protest.

He called the decorations candy canes, saying they’re associated with Christmas and therefore a religious symbol unfit for public display.

But School Board members agreed at a recent meeting that candy canes are a secular symbol and don’t represent an improper government endorsement of religion.

Woman Claims She Was Fired for Saying “Merry Christmas”

A Christian woman claims she was fired from her job because she greeted callers with “Merry Christmas,” but the vacation rental company says it’s no Scrooge and the woman is just a disgruntled employee.

Tonia Thomas, 35, said she refused to say “Happy Holidays” and was fired, even after offering to use the company’s non-holiday greeting. The Panama City woman filed a federal complaint that accuses the company of religious discrimination. She is seeking compensation for lost wages.

“I hold my core Christian values to a high standard and I absolutely refuse to give in on the basis of values. All I wanted was to be able to say ‘Merry Christmas’ or to acknowledge no holidays,” she said Tuesday. “As a Christian, I don’t recognize any other holidays.”

Thomas said she is Baptist.

Her former employer, Counts-Oakes Resorts Properties Inc., said she wasn’t fired for saying “Merry Christmas,” but would not elaborate.

“We are a Christian company and we celebrate Christmas,” said Andy Phillips, the company’s president. Thomas is “a disgruntled employee,” presenting a one-sided version of what happened when she was fired Dec. 10, Phillips said.

Liberty Counsel, an Orlando-based legal group that advocates for people discriminated against because of their religion, is representing Thomas before the federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. Their complaint also accuses the company of harassing and taunting Thomas after she was fired by calling the police to watch her pack her belongs and leave.

Thomas could have hard time winning the case, said G. Thomas Harper, a Jacksonville-based labor attorney who writes a newsletter on Florida employment law.

“I wouldn’t think an employee has the right to insist (on saying Merry Christmas) unless that really is a tenet of their faith. She would have to make a strong case that was part of her beliefs, if not, it becomes insubordination,” he said.

Thomas has found another job, but she makes less than the $10.50 an hour she earned with the rental company. She said the trauma of being fired and the pay cut has made for a tough holiday season for herself, her husband and their 6-year-old son.

Harper said when it comes to holiday greetings, the smartest choice might be ignoring the season.

“The best option is just not to say anything,” he said.

Utah Towns Accused of Lacking Christian Courage

A group of residents is upset after two central Utah cities denied their recent requests to donate and display nativity scenes on city property.
Members of the group recently attended city council meetings in Salina and Richfield to petition the cities to accept the donation and put up the nativity scenes, which would be done as part of an Eagle Scout project. But in both cases, there appears to be no room at the inn.

“We have presented this to the cities and told them not to be afraid to display them, so we are disappointed that they have not accepted,” said Salina resident Elaine Bonavita, who is the chairman of the Right to Vote Committee which has been actively pushing for the nativity scenes to be displayed.

Both city councils unanimously chose not to put up the nativity scenes for various reasons, but mostly based on advice from a city attorney.

Salina allowed a small nativity scene to be displayed by residents at the city building last year, but this year they don’t think it can be done.

“Our decorations are already set up at our building, and we decided this year was not the time to do it since we really have no room for it under the circumstances,” Salina Mayor Jim Reynolds said. “So we went ahead and said no for that reason and for the fact that our attorney advised against putting one up, and nobody questioned that.”

But members of the Right to Vote Committee say they aren’t buying the small amount of space argument. To them it has more to do with the backbones of the city leaders.
“It’s a lack of Christian courage,” Bonavita said. “Other towns have them up in public places. Why can’t Richfield and Salina? It is a lack of Christian courage.”

In the petition given to the cities, the group lists Lynch v. Donnelly, a U.S. Supreme Court case, which they feel shows the constitutionality of publicly sponsored Christmas displays. They also list a national public interest firm which they claim is willing to represent any city pro bono if called upon to help.

Richfield Mayor Brad Ramsay said his city hasn’t allowed nativity scenes in the past, and the city respects the legal advice of its attorney.

“We want to stay out of mixing church and state and always felt like a nativity scene is a personal expression of Christmas and not one the city wants to impose on anyone,” he said.

Ramsay also said that there are several nice nativity scenes throughout the city at private residences or businesses.

Bonavita said the nativity committee plans to seek out other cities in hopes of putting the nativity scenes on display.

“Christmas has been important to me all my life,” Bonavita said. “The world has commercialized it, so every year I try to do something special for Jesus Christ. This is a constitutional right we have.”

Churches Fight Back Against Nativity Thefts

Dozens of churches across the country have begun to fight back against pranksters by attaching GPS devices onto the baby Jesus in their nativity displays.

“It just upset me to think that anybody would steal anything in the first place, much less the baby Jesus from a nativity scene,” said Victory Christian Fellowship nativity scene organizer Carolyn Nicholson.

However, that’s what happened last Christmas to the nativity scene that she sets up every year at the church in Paltaka.

“I would hate to have to pay the price for whomever did that,” Nicholson said.

The church has since replaced their baby Jesus, but it hasn’t yet gone as far as some churches around the country that are placing a GPS tracking device on the Christ child in case another heavenly heist is attempted.

“It’s sad. It’s sad. I can’t believe it but I know it’s true,” Nicholson said.

Last year, before Victory Christian Fellowship replaced the baby Jesus permanently it used a baby doll as a temporary fill in. The organizer said she feels a little awkward about having two baby Jesuses around.

Still, she said she hopes they can keep them around. The idea of using GPS did intrigue the church’s pastor.

“Well, I do use a GPS myself and they do come in handy. So, it might not be a bad idea,” said Pastor Ben Tippett.

Despite the rash of Jesus thefts, one has to speculate that if any child could forgive his kidnappers it would be the baby Jesus.

“Well, it’d been better if they maybe asked them into their heart, instead of coming and taking him,” Tippett said.

Some churches have also been putting in security cameras as an alternative to watch what’s going on with the baby Jesus in their nativity scenes.

UK Teacher Canned for Claiming Santa Doesn’t Exist to 7-Year-Olds

Parents have flooded a British primary school with complaints after a teacher told a room of tearful seven-year-olds that “it’s your parents who leave out presents on Christmas Day,” The Daily Mail reported.

Outraged parents were sent a letter saying the substitute teacher at Blackshaw Lane Primary School in Royton, Greater Manchester, had been disciplined.

The class of 25 allegedly became rowdy talking about Santa Claus and the teacher blurted out that he did not exist in an effort to calm them down, The Mail reported.

“My son came home and said that his substitute teacher had told the class that Santa doesn’t exist,” one father told The Mail. “I thought it was wrong. He was distraught about it. He’s only seven-years-old and it’s part of the magic of Christmas to him.”

Radical Baptist Pastor Targets Santa Claus

They’ve picketed high schools, military funerals and even the Southern Baptist Convention with their controversial message that God hates homosexuals. Now members of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., have chosen a new target — Santa Claus.

The headline-making congregation — most of whom are related to Pastor Fred Phelps — has weighed in on an ongoing controversy over religious displays at the Washington state Capitol by requesting permission to put up a sign that reads, “Santa Claus Will Take You to Hell.”

Olympia, Wash., became an early battleground this year in what has been labeled the “Christmas wars.” The Freedom From Religion Foundation received permission to display a Winter Solstice display on the front lawn of the Washington Legislature’s office building, near a Christian Nativity scene erected by a private citizen.

The atheist sign reads: “At this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

The back of the sign reads: “State/Church: Keep Them Separate.”

“Our sign is a reminder of the real reason for the season, the Winter Solstice,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Wisconsin-based foundation. Gaylor said Christians “really stole Christmas” from observances of the Solstice, which originally marked the shortest day of the year and celebrated the return of the sun and the new year.

About 500 people gathered Dec. 7 on the Washington Capitol steps to protest the Solstice sign. The sign was stolen but later found in a ditch.

Phelps wrote a letter to Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) requesting permission to place another sign at what he said is a public forum that has been made available to multiple religious viewpoints.

The 3-by-5 foot placard carries a message, which can also be sung to the tune “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” that says Santa is a lie and to blame for the economy and the war.

“He is your favorite idol, you worship at his feet,” one verse proclaims. “But when you stand before your God, he won’t help you take the heat.”

Phelps said the sign reflects “sincerely held religious beliefs” and a viewpoint “well-grounded in Scripture.”

Phelps isn’t the only person trying to get into the Washington State Capitol act. According to the Spokane Spokesman-Review, another Kansas group, the KC Free Thinkers, wants permission to put up a display celebrating a tongue-in-cheek deity named the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Meanwhile, an Olympia man wants to erect a pole celebrating Festivus, a holiday whose invention was part of the plot in a famous episode of the 1990s TV comedy “Seinfeld.”

Yet another display request is from a Christian woman who wants to send a conciliatory message to the atheist community in an effort to ease tensions.

“It’s a circus and we’re center ring,” state Sen. Pam Roach told the Seattle Times. Roach wants the atheist sign moved farther from the Nativity scene and for the governor to establish stricter guidelines for future holiday displays.

Canada Grapples with Christmas/Holiday Tree Dilemma

There’s some controversy over what to call that big lighted pine tree on the National Assembly’s lawn.

On Tuesday, premier Jean Charest’s office sent out a news release announcing the premier of all Quebecers was going to ‘light the Christmas tree’ the next day.

But 10 minutes later, that bulletin was followed up with ‘a slight modification.’

It said Charest would ‘light the holiday tree’ on Wednesday…without the word Christmas.

But during the day Wednesday, a spokesman for the premier said unequivocally that it’s a Christmas tree.

The debate over Christmas symbols, which has been raging in other parts of North America for years appears to have split the Liberal caucus, between those who see no problem with the word Christmas, and those who want to recognize that not everyone in this society celebrates Christmas.

Pelosi Takes Heat for Allowing Christmas on Capitol Hill

Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi recently confirmed to Capitol Hill missionary Rev. Rob Schenck (pronounced SHANK) of Faith and Action that the war against Christmas is real.

Schenck is a missionary to elected and appointed officials on Capitol Hill and was a VIP guest at the recent US Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony held on the Capitol’s West Lawn, near the presidential inaugural platform that is under construction.

Following the ceremony that included traditional Christmas carols played by a US Air Force band, Rev. Schenck thanked Speaker Pelosi for keeping, as he said it, “Christ-mas” at the US Capitol, emphasizing “Christ.” Speaker Pelosi politely acknowledged the remark, then pursued Rev. Schenck to tell him she had been “mugged” for doing so.

Rev. Schenck commented, “At first I didn’t understand what Mrs. Pelosi was saying, so I simply nodded and thanked her again, but she repeated it emphatically. I realized the Speaker was saying she had paid a serious price politically for allowing the Christmas celebration to go on. She obviously took some political heat for it. For that, Nancy Pelosi deserves to be commended, and I made sure I did so.”

Schenck also said, “The fact that Nancy Pelosi said she was assailed for allowing a Christmas observance at the US Capitol confirms the war against Christmas is not a figment of the so-called religious right’s imagination. If one of the most liberal, arguably left-wing political leaders in our country, the woman third in succession to the presidency, is getting pummeled for lighting a Christmas tree and allowing Christmas carols on the lawn of the Capitol, that would qualify as a war against Christmas.”

NC School Board Saves Rudolph

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was almost grounded at Murrayville Elementary School this week after a parent complained about the classic Christmas song’s inclusion in her daughter’s upcoming kindergarten concert.

The objecting parent was upset about the words “Christmas” and “Santa” in the song, feeling that they carried religious overtones.

That prompted the song to be pulled from the upcoming holiday concert, which in turn upset more parents.

But Rudolph will be shining bright next Tuesday after New Hanover County school administrators and lawyers determined the song was just, well, a secular song about a make-believe reindeer.

“They’ve determined that it signifies just a day in time, Dec. 25, not the promotion of a religious symbol,” said Ed Higgins, chairman of the county Board of Education. “So Rudolph is back in.”

School officials also found the use of “Santa” to be okay because he’s considered a nonreligious figure.

The kindergarten chorus’ holiday concert for the school’s PTA will now include Rudolph along with the songs “Winter Wonderland,” a snowman rap and “Jingle Bells.”

“They have clearly decided that any other religion or custom is not important,” the objecting parent said after learning about the reversal on “Rudolph.” She asked that her name not be published, to shield her daughter’s identity.

The mother, who is Jewish, said she was trying to have a Hanukkah song added to the musical lineup but had not received a return phone call about it from school officials by mid-afternoon Friday.

Sean Dwyer, whose daughter is also in the kindergarten class, had complained Friday morning about Rudolph getting muzzled.

Friday afternoon he said he thought school officials had made the right call by reinstating the popular Christmas song.

“It wasn’t my point in the beginning whether it was about religion or not,” Dwyer said. “The children have been learning this for weeks, and some person was trying to push their own personal feeling and agenda for this for their own child alone, and you just don’t do that.”

But until late Friday morning, Rudolph wasn’t going anywhere.

Murrayville Principal Julie Duclos said the school decided to pull the song after the parent complained “to make sure that we were actually paying attention to everybody’s interest, that we were not choosing somebody’s interest over another.”

“If we had enough time in the PTA program to sing a song for every single interest and value system, then we could do it,” she said. “But when you can’t do that, you go to universal values that are agreed on by every faith, every denomination. We wouldn’t want to leave anybody out.”

Though concert participation is not mandatory, students had been practicing the songs during school hours in their music class.

The objecting parent said that she spoke to Duclos about keeping the program about education and having fun, without any religious references. She sees the beauty in the Christmas celebration, she said, but believes religious holidays have no place in a secular public school setting.

“I don’t mind Christmas or anything Christmas-related at all, so long as you’re not imposing it on my child,” the objecting parent said Friday morning.

Contacted about the matter Friday morning, Higgins was surprised and more than a little irritated by the school’s decision to drop Rudolph from the musical event.

“I thought we were getting to the point where people would live and let live,” he said, openly wondering about how a few words in a holiday song about a magical reindeer could influence a child’s religious development.

But Rabbi Harley Karz-Wagman, with Wilmington’s Temple of Israel, said non-Christians are overwhelmed this time of year.

“I can understand the feelings the parent has,” he said, although he added that he personally didn’t have a problem with Rudolph.

Schools spokeswoman Valita Quattlebaum said the district usually gets at least one complaint a year about some aspect of how the holidays are being celebrated in the schools.

But Stephanie Kraybill, head of the Council of PTAs, said she’s never heard of a parent complaining about Christmas songs in the schools before.

She said she remembers some parents expressing concerns about classroom decorations and holiday celebrations needing to include examples of all of the season’s holidays, not just Christmas.

“But not about Christmas carols,” Kraybill said.

UNC Libraries Throw Out Christmas Trees

For as long as anyone can remember, Christmas trees adorned with lights and ornaments have greeted holiday season visitors to UNC Chapel Hill’s two main libraries.

Not this year.

The trees, which have stood in the lobby areas of Wilson and Davis libraries each December, were kept in storage this year at the behest of Sarah Michalak, the associate provost for university libraries.

Michalak’s decision followed several years of queries and complaints from library employees and patrons bothered by the Christian display, Michalak said this week.

Michalak said that banishing the Christmas displays was not an easy decision but that she asked around to library colleagues at Duke, N.C. State and elsewhere and found no other one where Christmas trees were displayed.

Aside from the fact that a UNC Chapel Hill library is a public facility, Michalak said, libraries are places where information from all corners of the world and all belief systems is offered without judgment. Displaying one particular religion’s symbols is antithetical to that philosophy, she said.

“We strive in our collection to have a wide variety of ideas,” she said. “It doesn’t seem right to celebrate one particular set of customs.”

Michalak, chief librarian for four years, said at least a dozen library employees have complained over the last few years about the display. She hasn’t heard similar criticism from students, though they may have voiced concerns to other library staff.

Public libraries generally shy away from creating displays promoting any single religion, said Catherine Mau, deputy director of the Durham County library system, where poinsettias provided by a library booster group provide holiday cheer.

Golden, Colorado Throws out Menorahs

Old Town Fort Collins (Colorado) is bedecked in white lights, the holiday symbols are going up in storefronts and once again, City Councils are refusing to put up menorahs.

Just another Colorado holiday season? Say it isn’t so.

The city of Golden voted last week to support secular symbols in its official town celebration, extending them to include Santa Claus so an arch in downtown can once again host St. Nick and his reindeer.

The City Council preferred secular symbols like snowflakes and icicles, along with lighted trees, which the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled are primarily secular.

There will not be any menorahs, Kwanzaa kenoras or other holiday traditions on display on city property, although the council agreed to study the issue further next year.

Rabbi Levi Brackman, director of Judaism in the Foothills, asked the city for permission to erect a menorah on city property at 10th Street and Washington Avenue.

He said now that the city has decided against it, he’ll look for a private property owner who might be interested. Otherwise, he said he’ll let it go.

“My feeling is, if I can find another way—not on public property and without upsetting anyone, without causing any conflict—to accomplish exactly the same goal, which is to reach out to Jewish people with Judaism, I’ll do it,” he said.

In Fort Collins, it sounded all too familiar.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Gorelik, director of the Chabad Center of Northern Colorado, said he would reserve judgment on the city’s newly minted holiday display, called “Fort Collins Winter Traditions: Celebrations of Light,” until he sees it.

As of Monday, when installation was set to begin, Gorelik had not been approached about what the Hanukkah display would look like. He said he was out of the loop.

“I don’t know what’s going on, so I’d like to reserve judgment until I do know what’s going on,” he said.

Gorelik’s request three years ago to erect a menorah near a Christmas tree in Old Town sparked the controversy, which drew national attention to Fort Collins.

His 2005 request to have a menorah as part of the city’s holiday display raised concerns from some City Council members who feared adding a menorah to a Christmas tree display would open the floodgates to requests from many other faiths, everything from Nativity scenes to celebrations of Wiccanhood.

A temporary holiday display policy called for white or colored lights, traditional secular symbols and written secular messages. During the summer of 2007, a resident task force considered revisions to that policy.

Ultimately, council decided to allow Christmas trees and colored lights to remain in city displays, and added an educational all-faiths display at the museum.

That display will include a Nativity scene, a menorah and other depictions of cultural celebrations in Fort Collins. There won’t be a menorah in other city locations, but Gorelik plans to erect one at Coopersmith’s Pub, as he has done for the past several years.

As for Brackman, he said he took Fort Collins’ hard-earned lessons to heart—along with those of Seattle, which played host to a similar dispute over decorations at the airport.

“Ultimately, my view is, they don’t want it, too bad for them,” he said, adding that he does not hold anything against the Golden council. “We’ll try another way of doing it. Other than that, I’m looking upward.”

Christmas Wins: Florida University Reverses Ban

Bad publicity killed a ban on Christmas. It is once again safe to say “Merry Christmas” at Florida Gulf Coast University, an institution of higher learning that had, until this past week, enjoyed their obscurity.

In a statement released by the school, President Wilson G. Bradshaw said:

“There has been an overwhelmingly negative response to my recent communiqu� to the valued employees of Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU). It is now clear to me that we have erred in our attempt to find a balance between how best to observe the season in ways that honor all traditions – while also allowing employees to express their individual beliefs during the upcoming holiday season. As stated in my earlier message, there was no attempt to suppress expression of the holiday spirit. However, the message was received differently, and for this, I am sorry.

Today I am reversing my earlier direction regarding holiday decorations on the campus, and announcing a return to FGCU’s past practice in which common areas of the campus may be decorated. Employees may decorate the common space areas in their departments and units, and of course also continue to decorate their desks and individual workspaces in observance of the holiday season.

Wilson pointed out that “trying to adhere to tenets of political correctness was not the basis for the earlier decision, but rather attempting to achieve a difficult balance.”

Um, sure, Wilson.

MSU Struggles to Define Non-Religious Christmas Decor

A year-old controversy, to keep Christmas trees off the Missouri State campus, should be laid to rest this holiday.

The university just came out with a new decoration guideline that should answer any questions about what’s appropriate.

“That’s our goal, no controversy,” says Clif Smart, Missouri State General Counsel.

Last year the “C” in Christmas might as well have stood for controversy.

“I just don’t see what’s so religious about some tinsel and some lights,” says Tiffany Montileone, MSU student.

But last year, it was, at least, argued. Even Missouri’s governor weighed-in in favor of the tree.

“I personally don’t see the harm in it,” says Montileone.

This year, though, the university wants to make clear what is appropriate for holiday decor. MSU has divided how people can decorate in certain areas like common space and personal space.

“You wouldn’t see a nativity scene for example or any religious symbol of any religion unless that was a part of a display celebrating diversity, religious freedom,” says Smart.

In Strong Hall on the second floor, there is a display that shows different religions and holidays. It is clear that was put together to celebrate diversity. On the first floor, however, there is a Christmas tree, which is not considered a religious symbol. At news time, there was a Menorah also on display on the first floor, which is considered a religious symbol according to the University’s new guideline. At new time, KSPR was not able to get a reason as to why the two were placed beside one another. We talked to a University official, and they said they are looking into the matter.

However, dorms and offices are free space. A person can decorate their personal space anyway they see fit. In the meantime, though, the tree will stay.

“I think overall people are fairly indifferent about it,” says Brandon Dirickson. “You see it everywhere.”

“I think it’s gorgeous,” says Erin Wibbenmeyer. “I love the Christmas tree here, and I’m glad they put it back up.”

The University considers the following items religious symbols that “would generally be inappropriate for use in holiday decorations in common areas of the University”: The Nativity Scene, A Cross or Crucifixion, A Menorah, The Star of David, The Star and Crescent, Drawings of Jesus or Mohammed, The Bible of Koran.

The University considers the following items “decorations which are appropriate for use in common areas of University buildings because they are not religious symbols”: Flowers, Greenery, Wreaths, Christmas Trees, Bells, Snowmen, Winter Scenes, Santa Claus, Animals, Ribbon, Flags, and Pilgrims.

Christmas Performance Put Off to Accomodate Muslim Festival

British parents looking to see their children in a traditional Christmas play are fuming after a school decided to cancel the performance because it conflicts with the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, the U.K.’s Telegraph newspaper reported.

Officials at the Greenwood Junior School in Nottingham decided to postpone the annual holiday performance because it would have been too difficult to have both the Christmas and Eid celebrations together, The Telegraph reported.

“It is the first year my son has been there and a lot of the mums like me were really looking forward to seeing the children in the nativity,” one mother told the paper.

A letter sent by school officials and obtained by the paper apologized for “any misunderstanding” but said it had to respect “the cultures and religions of all the children.”

“The Christmas performance has not been canceled outright but has been postponed until the New Year,” the letter read.

But parents told The Telegraph that they were originally told the performance was canceled because Muslim children wanted to celebrate Eid with their families, making it difficult to schedule a date for the performance.