Nativity wars in Palm Beach

Greetings from Palm Beach County, where we put the “DUH” in Florida.

The latest tempest in a teapot down here concerns a lawsuit in which several Christian women on “The Island” have protested the city council sponsoring a Menorah and a Holiday Tree, but no Nativity scene. The result was an election in which the anti-Nativity scene forces soundly defeated the pro-Nativity scene rebel alliance.

But the Palm Beach Post — the voice of Led-Zep Cadillac, neo-Sixties liberalism in our part of the world — has decided that what this whole ruckus was about was mean, nasty Christians who were trying to knock down the church-state wall and drive Jewish Palm Beachers back into their condos.

Listen to this, from today’s Post:

“Absolutely . . . recidivist anti-Semitism,” said accountant Richard Rampell, a 19-year resident who is Jewish. “It went underground for a while and has come back. They’re saying, ‘You people are getting too uppity.’ All of a sudden, they want a Nativity scene. The Christians want to one-up the Jews. They resent the occupation of Palm Beach by the Jews.”

Longtime resident and attorney Bob Montgomery agreed. “Without question . . . it’s outrageous. There are certain code words and phrases. ‘We want to uphold our traditions’ is one of them. . . . This has caused a wound. It polarizes everybody.”

Naturally, the people seeking equal access to public land disagreed.

Not only that, it helps to read betweent he lines of the history of this snafu. Not that long ago, the Palm Beach establishment opposed an Orthodox Jewish group displaying a Menorah. The city lost that round and, eventually, began displaying a donated Menorah as part of city decorations, along with that Holiday Tree.

The irony here — an irony that seems to be lost on the Post — is that there may be real, live Jewish leaders in the community who back the idea of displaying a Christian symbol along with the Menorah.

Here is what Rabbi Shlomo Ezagui of Chabat House Lubavitch in North Palm Beach had to say:

“The town should be supportive of the displays. In fact, government should be supportive of religion; not one religion, but religion in general. This is a crazy world and getting crazier. People need belief in a God. . . . They need some guilt.”

Attention Post editors: It is possible that backing the Nativity was the pro-tolerance and diversity stance. Maybe this was a showdown between the folks who are comfortable with public faith and those we are not? Perhaps this was a case of — tip of the hat to Peggy Noonan — Brooklyn vs. Manhattan.

Amazingly enough, the U.S. government has backed this even-handed approach, as recently as the Religious Right regime of Southern Baptists Bill Clinton and Al Gore.

It’s called equal access. Look it up. It’s the law. The government can sponsor diversity or it can stay out of the holiday business altogether. Which is what the Palm Beach council members have decided to do — take down the Menorah and the Holiday Tree.

How many days is it until the next election in Palm Beach?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://getreligion.typepad.com/getreligion/2004/02/nativity_wars_i.html David Mullins

    You do understand the etymology of snafu, don’t you? Words are communication. If you make an acronym or euphemism out of it, you generally still communicate the full meaning of the word. I wouldn’t have expected this on your website.

    There are a lot more to watch out for: “he’s a jerk.” Well maybe that’s enough. I don’t want to sound that way. Hopefully you get the idea. ;-)


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