This is the Christmas tree in The Willows senior apartment building complex in Newhall, California:
The sign says “Please save our tree” because someone in upper management told them they weren’t allowed to have it because it was a religious symbol.
On Tuesday, Tarzana-based JB Partners Group Inc. sent a memo to staff at The Willows senior apartment building demanding they take down Christmas trees and menorahs in communal areas.
“We’re all angry. We want that tree,” said Fern Scheel, who has lived at the complex for nearly two years. “Where’s our freedom? This is ridiculous.”
The Willows staff and JB Property supervisor Wethanie Law declined to comment.
The tree isn’t a problem. It’s even less of a problem when another religious symbol is sitting alongside it. If a statue of Jesus shows up in the complex’s common area with a cross in one hand and a Bible in the other, we’ll have a talk about what’s an inappropriate promotion of religion. If someone’s religious symbol is denied placement in the area, we’ll have that talk, too. (Though it’s private property, from what I can gather, so it’s really not something anyone could sue over.)
Just to be clear, this wasn’t the Freedom From Religion Foundation sending a letter of complaint. This wasn’t a government organization telling the building owners to take down the tree. This appears to be an over-the-top decision made by someone in building management.
We don’t actually know what happened, though, because the company the manages the property, JB Partners, won’t comment on the issue.
In any case, 75 residents gathered together in protest to save the tree:
Max Greenis who has lived at the complex for a year with his wife, Bonnie, said he’s considering withholding his rent in protest of what he calls an abomination of the holiday tradition.
“I’ve got grandkids and they come here and now they’ll ask, `Grandpa, where’s the Christmas tree?’ Then I’ll have to explain that someone said we couldn’t have one. What kind of message is that sending to the kids?” Greenis asked.
After the protest — really more of a gathering over coffee and dougnuts to angrily air their concerns — some residents got so riled that they began taking the tree apart themselves. Some even took parts of the artificial tree back to their apartments in defiance.
***Update***: And just like that, the seniors have saved the day
But employees of JB Partners Group Inc., which manages The Willows, insisted Thursday there was no prohibition on Christmas trees or menorahs in communal areas.
“We think it was someone who heard something, and that someone told someone else and that person then told everybody,” said Monica Morones, from JB Partners Group, Inc.
“The phones have been ringing all day,” she said. “I just received a call from someone who said it was a constitutional right for them to have the tree. I said they were right. We place our residents first.”
Willows managers planned a party Thursday evening, so that residents could decorate the newly installed tree. A menorah was placed on a table while Christmas garland was also placed in the community room.
“We got our tree back and we’re happy, but I’m upset we had to go through all this,” said Dora Hadnot. “It’s Christmas. A tree means Christmas. It’s the season of giving and it’s about showing kindness to one another.”
“We probably won’t be allowed to sing Christmas carols,” another resident said.
“If not, that’ll be our next fight,” [Marjorie] Lenenberg said.
(Thanks to Will for the link!)