University of Maine Erupts Over Christmas Ban

University of Maine Erupts Over Christmas Ban

An email from a University of Maine supervisor, directing employees to refrain from displaying Christmas or other religious-themed decorations on campus, has sparked outrage on the campus and in the community where the University of Maine is located. This is what the email said:

“Just wanted to remind everyone that Auxiliary Services is not to decorate any public areas with Christmas or any other religious themed decorations. Winter holiday decorations are fine but we need to not display any decoration that could be perceived as religious.

This includes xmas trees, wreaths, xmas presents, candy canes, etc.

What is allowed are winter themes, plain trees without presents underneath, decorative lights, but not on trees, snow flakes, etc.

If you are unsure, best to not use or ask me for clarification.”

The story, first reported by WABI-TV on Wednesday, spread wildly across social media: A Facebook group called Bring Cheer Back to UMaine had more than 600 members as of Thursday.

Dean of Students Robert Dana, in a news release Thursday, said that UMaine did not ban Christmas decorations, or representations of any other holiday.

“We want to be absolutely clear that at the University of Maine, we welcome every faith tradition, and we welcome displays of those faith traditions,” said Dana. “The university is a place where, indeed, there is a great deal of diversity and that’s what we want and expect.

At last report university officials are scratching their heads at why students and citizens see these statements as contradictory and why there is a controversy at all.

Town Thumbs Nose at FFRF

Town Thumbs Nose at FFRF

Once again the FFRF is claiming that an anonymous citizen is complaining to them about their rights being violated when a city puts up a Nativity scene. But this time a city in Indiana is saying, “Oh yeah? Put up or shut up.” Brookville, Indiana received a letter threatening a lawsuit for their Nativity display from the FFRF. They have received a letter every year since 2010 when the FFRF claimed they were contacted by a citizen.

That’s the odd consistency about the Freedom from Religion Foundation. Rarely do these “citizens” they are suing for contact local city councils or authorities about their complaints. It is often anonymously done. The FFRF will send a letter threatening lawsuit and the city, county or school who receives the letter will back down or change. Nobody needs the expense of lawyers.

But there’s a stubborn streak in Brookville.

Wayne Monroe decided to put the scene on a trailer a few years ago and volunteers to set it up every year.

“There was just a group of us at the coffee shop one day that said “well, let’s go build it,” said Monroe who says he’s never had one complaint about it.

“As far as I know, the town is 110% for it,” said Monroe.

Then came the FFRF letters.

“Tell them to take a bill out of their wallet and look on the back of it. It says In God We Trust,” says Monroe.

In response to the controversy, the community has put up nativity scenes all over town including street corners, roofs and even the local grocery store. IGA store manager in Brookville Jim Singer says he hasn’t received any complaints either.

“It’s always been a Christian community and everybody just gets into it and rallies the support when somebody says you can’t do that,” said Singer.

“I don’t understand why people are getting so offended by this. It doesn’t matter what religion you are you should respect everybody,” said Francis Yee, a 16 year Brookville resident.

The FFRF isn’t saying what they are going to do about it. For four years all they have done is send threatening letters. And they have made their case on their website — still dated 2010.

FFRF Takes Out Christ, Community Puts in Jesus

FFRF Takes Out Christ, Community Puts in Jesus

Last week we shared the familiar story of a community under attack by an out-of-state entity threatening a lawsuit because of a religious theme to a city’s Christmas parade. The community of Piedmont, Alabama received a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation that they would sue if the city put on a Christmas parade with the theme “Keep Christ in Christmas”. The city council met and told the FFRF, as many communities have before, they would change the theme.

The new theme? Jesus in the Reason for the Season.

Residents lined Piedmont streets for the hour-long parade, which included Boy Scout troops, the high school marching band, beauty queens and several church floats. Many of the participants held hand-lettered signs that read “Keep Christ in Christmas,” and several spectators carried hand-held poster boards with the same message.

The parade was the most popular ever in the history of Piedmont according it the mayor, Bill Baker, who also indicated that most floats represented the theme boldly.

“This anti-religious group that started all this stuff, I really believe this has backfired on them,” Baker told the media. “What has happened now is the city of Piedmont, great city to live in, great people, has rallied. They have caused our parade to be bigger and better with more emphasis placed on Christianity.”

Local Media Stirs Anti-Christmas Controversy in Redmond

Local Media Stirs Anti-Christmas Controversy in Redmond

The agenda-driven media is alive and well at the local level in Redmond, Washington. A local television station, KOMO, is suggesting that atheists put up their own signs that say “Merry Spaghetti Monster Day” to counter the “It’s Ok to Say Merry Christmas” signs.

What does the reporter mean by “Merry Spaghetti Monster Day”? He’s talking about militant atheists who mock the religious through a character they call the Spaghetti monster. Pastafarians are members of the “Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster”, a fictional, light-hearted attempt to make fun of those in a god who cannot be seen. Those who claim non-belief through Pastafarianism will place colanders on their heads and even some voted into political office have gone so far to wear them while being sworn in.

What’s the problem with suggesting Pastafarians put up signs? Most Pastafarians celebrate Christmas.

The campaign-style signs, which are put up and taken down anonymously every Christmas, are placed in public access areas. KOMO seems to want to make an issue of the fact that the signs are near the city library and city hall. But the mayor says there is nothing illegal about the signs.

Why would the media want to see “Merry Spaghetti Monster Day” signs up? Do you think that some atheist organizations out there haven’t thought of that? Are there not big national organizations that could help with this?

Of course. But these signs are of a different variety. Someone has to handle them. Someone has to put them up and take them down. That would require something more than money. That would require effort. That would require someone who actually cared. That would require someone with some core conviction in the campaign.

And they really aren’t out there, folks. The Merry Spaghetti Monster is an invention of anti-religious activists. There really aren’t regular everyday atheists who are anti-Christmas. In fact, most garden variety atheists celebrate Christmas and gladly say “Merry Christmas”.

For the media to assume that most atheists feel offended by saying “Merry Christmas” to the point of launching a counter campaign to the Merry Christmas sign campaign in Redmond is to label them. That’s wrong. It’s almost as if KOMO wants the controversy.

Disney Under Fire for Dropping Christmas from Mickey’s Party

Disney Under Fire for Dropping Christmas from Mickey’s Party

Disney resorts and theme parks celebrate “Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party” every holiday season and this year is no exception. But at least one billboard is capturing the interest of Christmas fans who notice something missing: the word Christmas. And they are none too happy about it.

In many places where Disney promotes the event you can find use of the word Christmas, as evidenced by this graphic, which appears in print in most places:

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However, at least one billboard promotes the event this way:

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Disney claims they are performing a marketing test. If that’s true, they will likely get an answer quickly as this story gains national exposure (IF it gains exposure, that is). They have reportedly told one local Orlando Christian church they are testing the campaign because they don’t want to offend non-Christians.

Uh-oh.

We know where this leads. Expect more on this one.

Police Call Hyatt Christmas Irresponsible

Police Call Hyatt Christmas Irresponsible

The ever-escalating Christmas light fight between the city of Plantaion, Florida and the Mark Hyatt Family took another odd turn as the city police have taken the rare step of issuing a public rebuke:

“In their unbridled zeal to promote themselves and their ‘Extreme Christmas’ holiday display in their single family residential neighborhood and without any regard for public safety or the complaints of their neighbors, the Hyatts are acting irresponsibly, and are causing the City to take necessary and well considered steps,”

Reaction on all sides of the issue have been as extreme as the display. The Hyatts have plenty of defenders and detractors from the local area. This was gathered from various social media outlets:

— “Bah humbug to the city of plantation, you really out of your mind thinking there is a problem, you should bee dealing with the cry baby neighbors instead, they are the problem.”

— “Well thank God they are not my neighbors. Imagine the traffic you have to fight to get home every day. Makes sense. The house looks like an amusement park. They are not concerned about the disabled and the elderly. BS.”

— “Again, move in next to these people. Enjoy watching strange men peeing in your front yard…..”

— “We enjoyed going last year, and I think we’ll go again this year. It’s a beautiful display. Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Hyatt!!”

— “Seriously though, some people have NO IDEA that they are creating a nuisance for their neighbors. They only see their own “good” intentions, and as such utterly disregard the consequences for the people who live near them. That’s a sign of stupidity.”

— “What does a ferris wheel have to do with Christmas ? The house just has a bunch of electrical hazards in front of it. Ferris wheels need permits I think?”

— “Unless there has been some incident that has caused a danger to the public, then taking “proactive measures” by the police department and calling it such, is simply the opinion of an over zealous police chief. Sounds like the grounds for a lawsuit. I like it… I think I’ll drive by this house in support of their display.”

— “Such a beautiful display! And collecting donations of food for the needy at the holidays from those who visit is truly in the spirit of the season. But it seems some neighbors must have lodged complaints in order for police to be present. PLEASE do not blame the police for doing the job they are told to do- I’m certain that, to a person, NONE of these officers want the display removed. I pray the display will remain and the Hyatt family can continue spreading good cheer in the Christmas season.”

To all this we simply say: Peace on earth, goodwill to all men.

Menorahs Want Equal Time with Wreaths in Boston Library

Menorahs Want Equal Time with Wreaths in Boston Library

The debate of sacred over secular has gone to a new level of absurd in Boston. Esther Weissman, who is Jewish, just wants to display the Menorah along side the Christmas wreaths at Boston City Library. She isn’t asking for the wreaths to be taken down — she just wants the space shared so that the Menorah can be displayed as well.

But she is running into all kinds of opposition — and lots of funny arguments about what is and is not legal.

“The only thing I am asking for is inclusion. I’ve never complained about the wreaths. It’s not about getting rid of the wreaths. The wreaths are lovely,” said ?Esther Weissman, a longtime Back Bay resident. “I just want you to remember that there is a Jewish population of residents here in a city of everybody. And we also need to be represented — it’s our holiday also.”

For more than two years Weissman has led the fight. But the opposition she runs into is that the library’s board of trustees — backed by Mayor Martin J. Walsh and his team of city lawyers — argue that the Menorah is religious while the wreath is not.

Weissman says the wreath is Christian. The Board argues it is a secular symbol that doesn’t represent any religion.

“The wreaths are a seasonal display; they are secular symbols and do not represent any religion,” Walsh spokeswoman Kate Norton said in a statement. “Decorating public places with such secular images as wreaths remain within the boundaries set by the Establishment Clause, as outlined by the Supreme Court. We refrain from all religious holiday displays at the Boston Public Library.”

The Board of Trustees for the Library are wrong on several levels.

First of all, the Constitution doesn’t have ANY boundaries for Christmas set within the Establishment Clause. The Establishment Clause merely states that Congress will not establish a state Church. Putting up ANY religious seasonal decorations is not unconstitutional.

Second, Weissman’s argument that the Christmas wreath is a Christian symbol has merit. If it were not true why is it that you don’t see Muslims decorating for Christmas with wreaths? Christmas wreaths, Christmas trees, Christmas candles, anything with the colors red, white, green, and gold are inherently Christian. The Library Board seems to have appointed themselves experts in this case. We recommend they look in their own library to learn they don’t know what they are talking about.

Massachusetts is famous for fighting over Nativities and such. This one should head to court because a Menorah — or a Festivus tree, a Satanic Temple display, or an Atheist placard embracing Winter Solstice — should be allowable as part of ANY holiday display on public property.

Topless Protester Fined for Christmas Church Service Disruption

Topless Protester Fined for Christmas Church Service Disruption

It was Christmas of last year and church services were in full swing. That was the moment Josephine Witt scaled the altar with her bare chest bearing the words “I am God” to the shock and dismay of holiday worshipers. The Cologne District Court found Josephine Witt guilty on Wednesday on the charge of “disturbance of religious practice” and fined her 1,200 euros ($1,480).

Jumping on the altar was a show of freedom of expression, Witt said. “I did not want to harass anyone,” she added. “Even Jesus is hanging half naked on the cross.”

Judge Gerd Krämer called Witt’s deed “targeted ideological expression” and said she had “deliberately and grossly disturbed worship.”

After cathedral guards led her away on Christmas 2013, Witt said she had staged her protest in light of the Catholic Church’s attitudes toward women and the anti-abortion stance of Joachim Meisner, then the archbishop of Cologne. She faced three years in prison.

Witt’s fine was not the only legal fallout from her protest. One worshiper slapped her after the iconic cathedral’s staff pulled her down from the altar on that Christmas morning. The churchgoer later settled the legal case over the blow for 500 euros.

Femen, which was founded in Ukraine in 2008, has compared Witt’s case to the trial against the Russian activists Pussy Riot, who had conducted a protest in an Orthodox church in Moscow. Despite protests from Germany and other countries, three of Pussy Riot’s members were imprisoned.

Cologne Cathedral provost Norbert Feldhoff, however, dubbed Femen’s comparison as “completely overblown,” saying that the German and Russian justice systems were hardly comparable. “This isn’t just about the Catholic Church, it’s about free practice of religion in its widest sense, it’s about living together peacefully.”

After the group’s founders fled Ukraine following attacks in 2013, Femen is now based in Paris. Several international branches have become known for organizing topless protests against a host of subjects, including sexism, homophobia and sex tourism.

Merry Christmas Signs Return for 3rd Year

Merry Christmas Signs Return for 3rd Year

It’s Ok to Say Merry Christmas — that’s the message from an anonymous person in Redmond, Washington where for the third year the green signs with white lettering are showing up all over town.

“The ‘It’s OK to say, Merry CHRISTMAS’ signs are a form of free speech, much like political signs,” noted Redmond Mayor John Marchione. The city has no plans to remove the signs, he added. Since the signs began appearing two years ago, those placing the signs have removed them by New Year’s Day.

Local media says the reaction is mostly positive to the campaign but that there are some concerns out there:

One Redmond resident, who wished to remain anonymous, said they weren’t sure yet of their stand on the signs, but they are outspoken on the scenario.

“You have to think how much money, time and effort has gone into this, so my question is, ‘Is this good use of resources or would this money, effort and time have been better spent on doing something tangible for others?’ I think it would depend on who is putting them up, why they are putting it up and what they are trying to accomplish,” the resident wrote in an email. “Each year, this is getting bigger and seems to be spreading. This year, they added cards that they want people to take and spread around and these cards are very evangelical. Is this as far as they are going, or are they planning to go even bigger next year?'”

Hyatt Extreme Christmas Elevates Fight Against City

The Hyatt family will not pony up the cash to pay for extra police to direct traffic and keep the peace caused by the disruption of city life by their Christmas display but they can pay for sponsored posts on Facebook urging Plantation, Florida voters to replace the mayor. From the looks of things it appears the City’s action to get control over the situation and placate the complaining neighbors of the Hyatt’s must be working:

Extreme Florida Christmas Display Irritates Neighbors

Extreme Florida Christmas Display Irritates Neighbors

Hyatt’s Extreme Christmas is known nationwide. The brilliantly lit display turns a Plantation, Florida home into a winter spectacle worthy enough for national exposure on a TV reality show competition last Christmas — which they lost. But the Hyatt family is hoping to win something bigger than a TV show prize: the right to keep their lights on. For nearly a year they have been fighting the city of Plantation via a lawsuit — a trial that now won’t happen until spring of 2015. That means for 2014 the show goes on — and the bubbling cauldron of contention boils ever more as neighbors and the city stew over the chaos the display generates.

“Who is dealing with all the madness again? Us,” said neighbor Dolly Imbert. “We have to go in and out of our houses. Where are my rights? It’s not a normal situation. This is insane. It should not be happening, period.”

“For me this is a public safety concern, it really is,” said Police Chief Howard Harrison. “You can’t have pedestrian and motor vehicle traffic functioning on the same strip of land. That is a disaster waiting to happen. People and cars don’t mix. Without any control, there is going to be a problem.”

For years, the city tried to strike a balance between the property rights of the Hyatts and their neighbors, who complained about the crush of cars and the noise.

In 2012, the Hyatts scaled back the hours of their display and increased the number of volunteers to direct traffic.

In 2013, the city forced the Hyatts to stop using a roving spotlight, saying it violated city code.

Then the city put up “no parking” signs on Old Hiatus Road, but people ignored them, even parking under them. Most of the signs were vandalized and tossed into a canal, but they were replaced.

For the last few nights of the display in December 2013, Harrison paid three officers $5,000 in overtime to shut down Old Hiatus Road to keep hundreds of people each night from wandering in traffic to get to the Hyatts.

People parked at the nearby Grace Bible Church Plantation, at 901 NW 112 Ave., and made the eight-minute walk.

With no other remedy, Harrison said the road will be closed again this year and cars will be directed to the church.

But church officials said they aren’t promising their entire lot will be open to the public.

“Last year they only needed it for four nights, this year [the police department] asked for a whole month,” said Pastor Matt Stanchek. “Some nights there will be a conflict. It depends what’s going on at the church.”

For instance, when the church has its Christmas party, people are going to have to find somewhere else to go, he said.

Harrison said the no parking orders for the east side of Old Hiatus will be enforced. People who try to park on the street outside of the roadblock will be ticketed.

The Hyatts claim the city is harassing them at every turn. The most recent complaint involves the exhibit’s Santa’s Workshop section. “It’s a simple structure just for the elves, if you will,” said Mark Hyatt. “The city would like me to have a permit to build that.”

Racial Strife Mars Christmas Events

Racial Strife Mars Christmas Events

Events in Ferguson continue to spark protests that have extended into the events of Christmas. Last night’s tree lighting at New York’s Rockefeller Center coincided with a street protest and another grand jury decision not to charge a white cop will killing a black suspect. In a bizarre elevation of the rhetoric singer Darius Rucker took criticism for singing “White Christmas” at the event.

The ceremony went ahead under police protection, and Rucker performed “White Christmas,” a classic written by a Jewish immigrant, Irving Berlin. The song refers to snow, not to race, in recalling a traditional Christmas scene.

Critics, however, believed that the mere reference to the color “white” by a black singer in the throes of a racially-charged controversy was offensive and suggested a contempt for the feelings of other black people.

Last week a group of children performing Christmas carols in a mall in suburban Washington state were surrounded by threatening protesters. The protesters, who also attempted to disrupt a tree-lighting ceremony, managed to get the mall shut down for four hours on one of the busiest shopping days of the year, were unapologetic for their actions.

March leader Marissa Johnson countered, telling KING that “America goes where their pocketbook goes, so today we’re blocking Black Friday. We want you to be uncomfortable shopping.” A KING reporter noted that other children in the crowd “looked confused” regarding the protesters’ actions.

French Court Bans Nativity Scene

French Court Bans Nativity Scene

Officials in the western French town of La Roche-Sur-Yon have had to dismantle a nativity scene, in the latest row over France’s secular traditions.

A judge in Nantes ruled that it was a “religious emblem” and incompatible with the French principle of “religious neutrality in public spaces”.

Town officials have reluctantly removed a figure of baby Jesus, plaster animals and a desk-sized stable they had erected in the local council building.

A local senator denounced the ruling.

France’s strict secularism laws mean that religious symbols are banned from public spaces such as schools, hospitals and local councils.

Secularism was a founding principle of the French Republic and was enshrined in a 1905 law separating Church and State.

“This decision is grotesque,” said Senator Bruno Retailleau in a statement. “Next we’ll be banning epiphany cakes at the Elysee Palace.”

He also argued that it was unfair as in Paris the mayor hosted a dinner celebrating the Muslim month of Ramadan every year.

Bad Santa Denies Autistic Girl Because of Her Service Dog

Bad Santa Denies Autistic Girl Because of Her Service Dog

A mall Santa in Southern California has been fired for refusing to see an autistic 7-year-old girl with a Pitbull service dog named Pup-Cake because pit bulls “eat people”.

The girl’s mother said she offered to take Pup-Cake out of the mall completely. She said she asked the Santa is he would just wave and smile at the dog.

But the Santa said, “No, because they support those dogs,” according to the mother. The family said when they tried to explain laws on service dogs, the Santa then said he was allergic.

The mother said her daughter Abcde – pronounced “Ab-suh-Dee” – was planning on asking Santa what he wanted for Christmas so she could make it for him.

The Noerr Programs, which provides photos with Santa to shopping centers nationwide, apologized for the incident.

The company’s CEO, Judy Noerr, wrote a post on the Facebook apologizing for the incident.

She said the girl and her family are invited to a private visit with Santa, complete with complimentary photos of the dog.

The family released a statement saying that the incident was resolved. The Santa and his elf have both been fired.

FFRF Takes Christ Out of Alabama Christmas Parade

FFRF Takes Christ Out of Alabama Christmas Parade

Another city has caved to out-of-state threats of a lawsuit from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Piedmont, Alabama was to hold their traditional Christmas parade with the theme “Keep Christ in Christmas”. Now it will be called the City of Piedmont Christmas Parade after backing down from a threat of being sued by the FFRF. The Freedom From Religion Foundation has been active in that community for months fighting the practice of saying prayers at high school football games.

According to the group, the foundation sent a letter Nov. 24 challenging the parade’s theme of “Keep Christ in Christmas” as unconstitutional. The letter also cited a statement that the parade would “reflect our strong belief in prayers.”

The Foundation argued that the theme violates the Constitution’s First Amendment establishment clause. A government celebration of Christmas, it argued, is only permissible because courts have ruled certain aspects of the holiday to be secular symbols, such as Christmas trees.

The “Keep Christ in Christmas” theme “alienates non-Christians and others in Piedmont who do not in fact have a ‘strong belief in prayers’ by turning them into political outsiders in their own community,” the letter stated.

In a Dec. 1 letter, the city responded through the law firm of Merrill, Merrill, Mathews and Allen that the parade would be renamed the “City of Piedmont Christmas Parade.”

Foundation Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel said the challenge came after a local citizen reported the parade to the foundation. He said that person found out through a promotion on the Piedmont High School Facebook page. The post promoting the parade has since been changed also, he said.

“I’ve never seen a city with a “Keep Christ in Christmas” theme for a city-sponsored parade,” he said. “Usually we see that in other places in signs on city property that we ask to be taken down.”

Earlier this year, Piedmont City School officials received a letter on March 20 from an attorney with the foundation. The letter said a local resident, who was not named, reported the system was violating the First Amendment by allowing a public prayer over the public address system at football games.

The prayer has since been replaced with a moment of silence.