City of Merced Caves to Pressure to Keep Christmas Parade

Merced’s (California) “Christmas Parade” is back after a name change to avoid lawsuits was blasted by residents as politically correct overkill.

The city became organizers of the 15th annual parade this year after its longtime sponsors backed out.

Officials quietly changed the name from “Christmas Parade” to “Holiday Parade” to guard against possible lawsuits claiming the city was endorsing one religion over another.

Residents called City Hall and sent letters to the editor of the Merced Sun-Star to object.

City Manager John Bramble says officials “never wanted to be the Grinch that stole the Christmas Parade” from Merced.

Orange Country Courthouse Takes Down Christmas Tree

The removal of a Christmas tree from the Orange County Superior courthouse Monday has prompted a petition among court employees to have the tree – connected to a gift drive for poor children – put back. The six-foot artificial tree, which was adorned with tags seeking toy donations to ‘Operation Santa Claus,’ was removed Monday after a member of the public complained about the tree being in the courthouse, court spokeswoman Gwen Vieau said.

“It’s a public building and we have to serve the diversity of our community,” she said.

The tree had been put up in the courthouse every holiday season for about 20 years, said Orange County Sheriff’s Special Officer Cynthia Guerrero, who runs the courthouse’s ‘Operation Santa Claus’ effort. She was ordered to take down the tree.

Members of the public would come and grab tags – which sought donations for specific children. Last year, the courthouse got 374 presents for the toy drive.

But courthouse employees want the tree back up, and are circulating a petition among courtrooms. As of this afternoon, about 30 people had signed the petition.

“That tree holds the cards that contain the wishes and needs of those less fortunate than we are and shame on those who want to take that away from those of us who wish to give …” the petition says. “Now at the court’s darkest hour, our symbol of hope has been taken away from us.”

Though the tree is gone, the donation opportunity is still available. The courthouse has set up a table in the lobby for individuals who want to sponsor a needy child and provide him/her with a gift for the holidays.

Appeals Court Rules Schools Can Ban Christmas Carols

The federal appeals court in Philadelphia has upheld a New Jersey school district’s ban on religious songs during the Christman holiday season.
In their ruling, three judges of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals noted that such songs were once common in public schools, but that times have changed.

Michael Stratechuk sued the Maplewood-South Orange School District in 2004, saying the ban violated his two children’s First Amendment’s freedom of worship rights.

Not so, said the appeals court.

“Certainly, those of us who were educated in the public schools remember holiday celebrations replete with Christmas carols, and possibly even Hanukkah songs, to which no objection had been raised,” the court said in its ruling.

“Since then, the governing principles have been examined and defined with more particularity. Many decisions about how to best create an inclusive environment in public schools, such as those at issue here, are left to the sound discretion of the school authorities.”

Stratechuk’s lawyer, Robert Muise. told The Star-Ledger of Newark and Record of Bergen County’s Statehouse Bureau he’ll ask the full appeals court to rehear the case and he may appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

NY Town Brings Back Christmas to Bring Back Crowds

A town on New York’s Long Island is hoping for better attendance at its 16th annual holiday boat parade this year by restoring “Christmas” to the event’s name.

The Patchogue Riverfront Committee says it decided to rename the event “Christmas Holiday Boat Parade” after taking over sponsorship from the local chamber of commerce.

Last year’s event was renamed “Holiday Boat Parade” after some residents complained the name wasn’t inclusive enough. But the committee says the ensuing controversy led to a dramatic drop-off in spectators. It says it’s restoring the word “Christmas” to recognize that that most of the participants celebrate the holiday.

California Bans Oregon Christmas Trees

California — the only state in the US with agricultural inspection stations at state border crossings — won’t be looking inside coolers for stray fruit coming into the Golden State. They will be looking at the tops of cars and backs of pick-up trucks for rogue Christmas trees imported from the neighboring northern state of Oregon.

Californians who travel to Oregon’s Curry County to get Douglas fir trees for Christmas won’t be able to bring them back.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture says it will confiscate the trees at the agency’s Smith River Border Inspection Station on Highway 101 in an effort to stop the spread of sudden oak death, a deadly tree disease caused by a fungus.

An agency spokesman says the ban applies to trees cut for personal use, and to Douglas firs bought from commercial vendors.

Douglas fir trees can host the disease, which exists in 14 California coastal counties stretching from Humboldt to Monterey. Other species of trees aren’t affected.

Oregon is the No. 1 Christmas-tree producing state in the country.

Best Buy Shines Christmas Spotlight on Themselves with Muslim Nod

Best Buy just put themselves in the middle of the War on Christmas. A Best Buy ad with a Muslim theme is raising questions of how retailers should mark religious holidays.

The ad on BestBuy.com wishes Muslims a happy Eid al-Adha, a Muslim holiday that lasts three days and happens to fall on the extended Thanksgiving weekend.

A BestBuy.com message board has been filled with mixed responses since the ad was posted, MyFoxTwinCities.com reports.

One says, “Thank you Best Buy for the Eid Greetings!! I plan to spend more money at BB (Best Buy.) Thank you for being inclusive of various cultures.”

Another post wasn’t as supportive: “Happy Eid Al-Adha but no Merry Christmas? I assume your next advertisements will say Merry Christmas. Otherwise, I will no longer shop at best buy. I will shop at those businesses which support Christmas.”

Best Buy released a statement saying, “We do use the word ‘holiday’ in some of our advertising because it is meant to be inclusive to everyone. However, just as we have in the past, we will also reference specific holidays such as Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa in our weekly ads, store signage and other advertising vehicles.”

Parade Organizers Ban Mrs. Claus

Santa Claus is fine at a North Carolina Christmas parade. But Mrs. Claus has to stay away.

Organizers of the Raleigh parade told The News & Observer of Raleigh that they are just following policy and children would be confused if there were two people in the Saturday parade in Santa suits.

John Odom says organizers even discourage parade watchers from wearing Santa hats so everyone’s attention is on the real St. Nick.

Mrs. Claus isn’t happy. Debra Goldman says she was allowed to don her gray wig and long red dress last year as she walked with the sheriff.

Odom says organizers didn’t know Goldman was dressing as Mrs. Claus last year. This year, she sent out a press release.

Goldman says she still might wear a Santa hat as she walks.

USPS Says Bah Humbug to North Pole Postmark

The U.S. Postal Service has decided to cancel a program which allowed thousands of children to receive letters from Santa with North Pole postmarks. Postal Service officials said they are tightening rules nationwide because a volunteer in the Maryland Operation Santa program turned out to be a registered sex offender. Program volunteers in North Pole, Alaska, are likening the Postal Service to the Grinch who stole Christmas for the decision. But one post office spokesperson said dealing with the tighter restrictions is not feasible in Alaska. “It’s always been a good program, but we’re in different times and concerned for the privacy of the information,” Pamela Moody said.

Annual Friend or Foe of Christmas Campaign Launched

Liberty Counsel has launched its seventh annual “Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign,” pledging to be a “Friend” to those who recognize Christmas and a “Foe” to those who censor it. In Amelia Ohio, town officials caused an uproar when they attempted to change the name of a “Christmas parade” into a “holiday parade.” In response, the city council decided to cancel the parade after one person questioned whether the city could be sued for celebrating Christmas. Liberty Counsel has offered legal assistance to city officials.

Last year, Liberty Counsel defended an employee who was fired because she wanted to greet people with “Merry Christmas.” Liberty Counsel filed suit and the employer agreed to settle the case by paying damages to the fired employee. Liberty Counsel has handled numerous situations involving Christmas. Liberty Counsel has worked on cases involving nativity scenes on public property, senior living centers that banned elderly residents from singing Christmas carols, a Massachusetts school which banned students from wearing red and green because they are Christmas colors, school officials who censored religious words from Christmas carols, and companies which renamed Christmas trees “holiday trees.”

Amelia, Ohio Fights Christmas vs. Holiday for Parade

The Village of Amelia has hosted a Christmas parade continually for the past 28 years, but the group that normally sponsored and organized it, couldn’t this year.

Mayor Leroy Ellington said the village tried to help.

“As an 11th hour effort, the village decided to step up and continue hosting the parade as a Holiday Parade,” Ellington said.

The name change from “Christmas” to “Holiday” raised some concern for local churches.

Ellington said the result is, “Local churches removing themselves from involvement and not allowing us to use their property.”

Area church leaders could not be reached for comment, but people visiting the voting polls at Amelia Baptist Church said plenty.

Sue Blockberger-Miller lives in Peirce Township.

“It needs to be a Christmas Parade,” she said. “That’s what we’re here as Christians for, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Jim Dotzhauer, of West Chester said, “I agree. I just think that sometimes you have to stand up for what you believe in.”

Phil Dever said, “I don’t know why all the churches around here don’t get together and form a consortium or whatever.”

The mayor said, “As Leroy Ellington the citizen: I am in favor of a Christmas Parade.”

However, as mayor he worries about separation of church and state legalities.

The parade is being formed by a private party and the committee continues to try to get sponsors.

The group has until November 27 to apply for a permit to have the parade on December 12.

Athiests Launch New Campaign Using Christmas Against God

Seattle, Washington will be ground zero for a new attack by Athiests using Christmas to attack belief in God. The Freedom from Religion Foundation launched a press release today touting plans to splatter an image of Santa Claus saying “Yes, Virginia, there is no God” on buses, billboards and public venues:

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Starting this week, the Foundation is sponsoring 100 ads on Seattle buses that say “Yes, Virginia, there is no God.” That’s coming straight from the Santa’s mouth on the signs, 100 of which will be king-sized exterior ads, with about 300 smaller ads inside buses.

The interior ads feature six provocative quotations by five famous skeptics of history, plus a quote from perhaps the world’s preeminent atheist, Richard Dawkins, author of the bestselling “The God Delusion.” The ad features Dawkin’s comment from the book: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.”

The ads also feature quotes from Emily Dickinson, Butterfly McQueen, Katharine Hepburn and Clarence Darrow, who famously said, “I don’t believe in God, because I don’t believe in Mother Goose.” Actress Butterfly McQueen, who played Prissy in “Gone with the Wind,” said: “As my ancestors are free from slavery, I am free from the slavery of religion.” McQueen was a nearly lifelong atheist.

The FFRF famously made headlines last year when they posted an anti-God message in the guise of “winter soltice decorations” at the Washington State Capitol. They are building on the momentum of national media attention that stunt gave them.

Freethinkers and skeptics have a hard time with the belief thing, which is what’s behind the ads, said Dan Barker, Foundation co-president. “Most people think December is for Christians and view our solstice signs as an intrusion, when actually it’s the other way around,” he said. “People have been celebrating the winter solstice long before Christmas. We see Christianity as the intruder, trying to steal the natural holiday from all of us humans.”

The Foundation, which has more than 14,000 members, asks only that reason may prevail, all year round: “There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world,” as the Foundation’s sign said last year in the Washington State Capitol (resulting in a moratorium on all inside displays, per the Foundation’s request).

Annie Laurie Gaylor, Foundation co-president, said the winter solstice has been celebrated for thousands of years in the Northern Hemisphere, with festivals of light, evergreen trees, feasts and gift exchanges.

“We nonbelievers don’t mind sharing the season with Christians,” Gaylor said, “but we think there should be some acknowledgment that Christians really ‘stole’ the trimmings of Christmas, and the sun-god myths, from pagans.”

California Voters May Decide on Christmas Music in Schools

California just has to regulate everything. Now there is a movement afoot to draft rules for how Christmas music is heard and performed in public schools. Backers may start collecting signatures for a ballot measure that would require public schools to offer a chance for students to listen to Christmas music, the state says.

The initiative, if it makes it to the ballot and is passed by voters, would tell schools to notify students’ parents or guardians 21 days before the music will be played or performed so that students can opt out of listening to or performing the music, Secretary of State Debra Bowen said in a prepared statement.

The measure provides that a civil lawsuit may be brought to enforce the requirements.

Bowen said proponents Merry Susan Hyatt and David Joseph Hyatt must collect signatures of 433,971 registered voters — the number equal to 5 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the 2006 gubernatorial election — to qualify it for the ballot.

Backers have 150 days to circulate petitions for the measure, meaning the signatures must be collected by March 29, 2010.

The state legislative analyst and director of finance estimate the measure would probably result in minor costs to school districts.