Happy Birthday Jesus Sign Won’t Return to Utah Business

Happy Birthday Jesus Sign Won’t Return to Utah Business

Cafe owner Rick Lefler wanted to bring a little Christmas spirit to his business in downtown Ogden, Utah. So he hung a banner outside his small cafe that said “Happy Birthday, Jesus”. The sign immediately got attention. In one respect it got the desired results as community citizens came in to compliment the business on the sign. But others were offended and complained that the sign should be taken down due to its religious nature.

On Christmas morning the sign was stolen.

“Some people believe their view is the only thing that matters,” he said. “But regardless of a person’s religious or political opinions, I think we should all agree vandalism and theft are never an option.”

The City of Ogden received some complaints about the sign but Lefler claims the city never asked him to remove the sign.

But Lefler doesn’t plan on bringing the sign back for next Christmas. Citing the cost and the controversy he just doesn’t feel it is worth it. Christmas loses this time.

See the local story here.

The Christmas Trees of Korea

The Christmas Trees of Korea

A whole new twist on the “war on Christmas” comes from Korea — North and South — in recent weeks. The following information makes the so-called western “war on Christmas” almost seem silly in comparison. At the center of it all is the Christmas tree — or, as they call, it — a weapon of real war.

South Korean Christians made international headlines last month with the lighting of a 100-foot tower shaped like a Christmas tree. The act so angered North Korean officials that they declared it “an undisguised challenge to us and an unacceptable provocation”. It warned that staging “psychological warfare” along the border would be a “rash act” that could ignite war on the peninsula. North Korea is a totalitarian state that long ago banished religion and sent practicing Christians to prison camps.The idea that Christmas could exist there in any form is absurd.

Lost in the coverage of a bizarre visit to North Korea by Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt with former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is the blogged account of the trip from Schmidt’s daughter, Sophie.

It was her comments and pictures of North Korean Christmas trees that caught our eye.

Imagine it: Christmas trees in North Korea.

Forget what a Christmas tree means to us. What must it mean to North Koreans?

The Christmas tree is a secular symbol of the season. Tied anciently to pagan practices it is commonly explained by historians to be one of the adopted traditions Christians exploited in expanding the celebration of Christmas.

In republican environments the idea of Christmas trees is argued every season as an appropriate part of public holiday celebration. We grapple over whether to call it a Christmas tree or a holiday tree.

Sophie Schmidt mentioned that her “handler”, when questioned about the Christmas trees she saw, jokingly referred to them as “New Year’s trees”. Of the many wry observations of her visit to that bizarre state this was the most ironic observation for us.

It tells us that even in the bleak landscape of North Korea hope survives and the Christmas tree, whether it is a religious symbol to them or not, remains an ever present symbol nonetheless.

You Light, I’ll Sue

You Light, I’ll Sue

Another light fight has broken out in Cleveland. This one involves neighbors, donations and fireworks. Yes, fireworks. Now the whole thing is headed to court — just another in a list of Christmas light court cases we’re seeing in 2013.

It seems the epic display of Dan Hoag and family is quite the spectacle. More than 1000 people show up every Thanksgiving evening at 6pm and the kids line up to visit with Santa. The event was once covered on the Today Show. Some reports say the entire neighborhood and multiple families participate by lighting houses, yards and walkways. It runs every year from Thanksgiving to Christmas and is so big that it includes fireworks launched overhead right there from Hoag’s yard.

“They set off this massive fireworks display that lasts literally for 10 minutes and it’s like a fourth of July fireworks display,” said nearby resident Rachel Schoonmaker. “They are setting them off in their backyard. They have like a massive stand and they have them up on there and they send them up from there.”

Neighbor Kevin Roberts has put up with it for seven years. He reached his breaking point, it appears, when his Thanksgiving dinner was ruined and a family member was harassed just for leaving the house. Roberts is suing for $3000 claiming damage to his yard, roof and vehicle.

The fireworks appear to be a big part of the case. Apparently it is illegal to shoot off fireworks there. Someone complained about the event a few years back and police shut it down before it started. This year Hoag worked with local police, who actually sent two officers to work the event and things went well. Hoag also claims to have received approval from the mayor to light off the fireworks.

“I think it’s a shame,” said Hoag, who started the street-long decorating two decades ago with neighbor Dan Paliwoda. “We’re just trying to do something nice for families and kids.”

The case gets its first hearing at the end of January.

Christmas Lights Head to Court in 2013

Christmas Lights Head to Court in 2013

The issue of Christmas lights is not a new one to us. From cities who have to abandon public displays of lights because of budget concerns to neighbors complaining about over-the-top displays the issue is not a new one. But as technology advances you have to question when it all becomes a little too much.

Out in the ritzy suburbs of Orange County a Fountain Valley woman made headlines for her display of Christmas lights honoring her husband, who passed away from cancer. 2012 was the second year of her display and this year it was bigger than before — more than 65,000 LED lights synchronized to loud music that blew away the neighbors and drew large festive crowds to the neighborhood. Here is one local news report:

For some, the light display can make an impact in other ways. A Louisiana woman used Christmas lights to craft an image of an extended middle finger pointed to her neighbor, who she accuses of stealing her dog. The local police ticketed the woman and forced her to take down the lights. She took it to court, backed by the ACLU, claiming First Amendment rights to justify the display. Here is another local news report (with the offending Christmas lights blurred out, ironically):

Christmas lights are STILL in the news even though Christmas has past. The first of media reports of people keeping their Christmas lights up too long has already been posted online where discussions of the difference between a “law” and an “ordinance” seems to subdue the fact that Christmas lights to some belong up and on only in December. This report comes from Maine.

Canadian Buses Under Fire for Saying Merry Christmas

Canadian Buses Under Fire for Saying Merry Christmas

The City of Saskatoon received a vociferous complaint about the “Merry Christmas!” greeting running across the top reader boards on city busses. According to local media an activist named Ashu Solo declared the signs “inappropriate” and “discriminatory”. The matter has been referred to a city committee on diversity and race relations for study.

“It makes many feel that Christianity is the religion of Canada,” Solo told the committee. “It makes people feel like they have to be Christian.”

A city council debate on the issue featured a reminder from the city mayor that the city of Saskatoon was founded 130 years before based on Christianity, a viewpoint that drew some criticism.

While the issue is under review it appears the idea of including other religious holiday greetings on city buses is one idea being considered.

FFRF Goes After High School Christmas Music

FFRF Goes After High School Christmas Music

The Freedom From Religion Foundation of Wisconsin sent a letter on December 18th requesting that the Chambersburg (PA) Area School District cancel two performances of “The Song of Christmas” at a local high school. The letter claims the performance violates the U.S. Constitutional statutes of separation of Church and State. The FFRF has requested that all future performances of the work be banned as well. According to local media the school glee club has been performing the work each holiday season for about six decades. The program, first made famous by Fred Waring and the The Pennsylvanians in a radio broadcast aired in 1945, tells the story of the Nativity through compiled arrangements of Christmas carols and traditional holiday songs.

The FFRF, who claims a local resident who is a member of FFRF contacted them to complain about the work, justified its action because the performance compels students to participate in a live nativity. Supporters of the school opposing the FFRF say they will fight the complaint based upon the elective nature of the Glee Club and that it is not required as part of core state curriculum.

It was not reported whether or not legal action was threatened. However, given the vocal and public push back already demonstrated by parents, students and local supporters of the school it is customary for the FFRF to issue a follow-up letter threatening legal action. In most cases, school boards and communities are forced to weigh the cost of defense against the tradition of the school.