Restricted Goodwill

The holiday season should be about peace on earth and goodwill toward all. But that can't happen if our government extends its goodwill only to people of certain beliefs. And that's unfortunately what happens when a government erects a holiday display.

Don't get me wrong. As a Humanist, I love holiday displays. In fact, I would love to see displays erected for every different belief group in our communities. Sadly, that never happens. For all the talk of inclusive public holiday displays, when push comes to shove, only Christians and Jews need apply. Perhaps the new motto of the season should be goodwill toward all except Atheists, Buddhists, Wiccans, and Muslims.

Case in point: Bartow, Florida tried to be inclusive a few years back by allowing a Free Speech Zone on its public property. Everyone loved the idea when the only displays were a crèche and a Zarathustra sign. But when the Atheists put up a display, the county commissioners quickly ended their free speech experiment. Their desire to exclude Atheists was greater then their desire to have a Christmas crèche. Clearly their goodwill did not extend to the Atheists in their community.

The same thing just happened in Chester County Pennsylvania. After several years of allowing community groups to erect holiday displays, Chester County decided that, this year, only officially approved displays would be permitted. The only displays allowed turned out to be Christian and Jewish. The local Freethought Society's Tree of Knowledge was excluded. The message, once again, is goodwill toward the favored few, ill will toward everyone else.

The reason I say that Chester County is displaying ill will toward non-Christians and non-Jews is because their official justification for excluding the Tree of Knowledge is both ignorant and insulting. They claim that only traditional holidays are worthy of inclusion in their display and that the only two that qualify as traditional are Christmas and Hanukkah. That means they either don't know about the other holidays celebrated this time of year like Winter Solstice, HumanLight, Kwanzaa, Divali, Eid, and whatever else people might like to celebrate, or they don't think those other holidays matter. Either way, they are displaying incredible ignorance.

To add insult to injury they then went on to tell everyone who celebrates a holiday other than Christmas or Hanukkah that they should be satisfied and not complain about their exclusion because their perspectives, secular or otherwise, are represented in the display by the inclusion of a Santa Claus and a train filled with toys. And no, I'm not joking. That really was why they felt justified in excluding the Tree of Knowledge.

There is no way around this. Governments have no business deciding which holiday traditions are worthy of inclusion in a public display and which ones aren't. We can extend goodwill toward all, or we create ill will toward some. As a Humanist, I prefer goodwill toward all. Either include everyone who wants to be included or don't put up a public display.

12/6/2010 5:00:00 AM
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