One of the major tenets of my public school education was being taught to be a good citizen and to uphold the doctrines of the American Constitution, including the separation between Religious activities and State sponsored activities as described in the first Amendment. As a young Jewish child growing up in Northern Wisconsin it was often hard to see any distinction being made between Church and State. My early school years as a public school student include memories of recitations of the Lord's Prayer, invocations made in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and many Christian holiday celebrations. No attention was paid to any other religion unless my family brought it to the attention of school officials.
I felt that I was clearly an outsider during these events and thus an outsider in the classroom and community. While I do not believe that people intended to exclude me, or attempted to convert me, they clearly had no idea how difficult it was for a child who did not share in these religious traditions to have them occupy such a prominent place in the activities in our schools. I would go home and feel such relief to be able to shed the pretense that these celebrations were showing "good will to all." In later years, the school personnel caught on and told me that we were having "winter" concerts when I finally told them I would not participate in a Christmas celebration. However, the program for that concert had a crèche prominently featured on the cover and the only part that was not about Christmas was the band and orchestra in which I played. At 14, I was put in the uncomfortable situation of showing up and allowing them to get away with their untruth to me or staying home. I stayed home.
Today we are thankfully more aware that in America we are blessed to have people of many different ethnic and religious backgrounds. We must make our children aware of the many differences and similarities this polyglot population of ours shares. In order to do so, we must accept that any celebration that gives prominence to any religion in a publicly sponsored and financed activity may make those who do not share in that faith uncomfortable. While the Supreme Court has ruled that Christmas trees and Hanukkah Menorahs are not religious symbols and therefore can appear in public displays, their compromise ruling does not help. It simply diminishes these symbols of faith to believers and does nothing to alleviate the alienation of those who follow other religions or no religion.
Winter Concerts, public lawns and buildings should certainly be beautiful and happy places, but they should not be used to give prominence to any set of religious beliefs or practices.
12/6/2010 5:00:00 AM