The holiday season is just behind us. And this holiday season, like every holiday season in recent memory, we were visited by those same issues as to whether a municipality can hang or have holiday decorations that seem to promote one religion over another. And as always, these conflicts find their way into the court system.
These court cases generally pit two of the strongest tenants of the First Amendment against each other. On one hand, there is freedom of expression and the right of people to express themselves and their religious views. On the other hand there is the establishment clause of the First Amendment which leads to the separation of church and state and government shall favor no religion over another. In essence, there is the one side that believes that their religion has the right to be expressed even in government buildings or property while there is the other side that either believes that no religion should be promoted in any government venue or if one is promoted, then all should be promoted in the same manner.
Last month, the Town of Bay Harbor Islands had on display a menorah, a symbol of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. They did not have a nativity scene commemorating the birth of Jesus and Christmas. Apparently, the city was willing to decorate a Christmas tree, believing that that would be equal to the menorah display. However, a resident of the city complained that the menorah was a religious symbol while the Christmas was not. She further complained that if the menorah was going to be shown then the appropriate counterbalancing religious Christian theme should be the nativity scene.
The town disagreed with this and refused to put up the nativity scene. The resident angered by this decision contacted the Michigan based Thomas More Law Center which defends Christian beliefs. On behalf o f the resident, the Tomas More Law Center filed suit in Federal District Court in Miami. Federal District Court Judge Altonaga heard the case and ruled that in fact “because the menorah on the Causeway Island stood alone, the Court concludes that the religious purpose was predominate”. The Court further went on to order the city to submit in writing how it would include a nativity scene, on the causeway along with the menorah.
Whether the judge was right, or the city was right, or all of them were wrong, is irrelevant. What is more relevant is the fact that every year these issues keep on popping up. Sometimes it is the Christians that feel that they are getting slighted by public displays, while at other times it is Jews, Moslems or any other type of religion that feel that they are getting slighted during this time of the year.
Rodney King had it right years ago when he said “can’t we all just get along”. This is supposed to be the season in which there is brotherhood towards all men. This is supposed to be the time of the year in which we are supposed to give our hearts to brotherly love and to the good of mankind. This is supposed to be the time of the year when we are searching for peace on earth with all those great and lofty goals for this time of the year, it never fails that issues such as these end up in court.
If our country stands for one thing, it is supposed to stand for religious tolerance. Yet, more and more at least not less and less, it seems that each religious group struggles to get its fair share of government accreditation, blessing and approval. Who can forget last year’s “Judge Moore and his 5000 pound, granite Ten Commandment in the Alabama Supreme Court Rotunda”. What will it be next year?
The bottom line is that as this country becomes more and more diverse, with more and more people, from more and more cultures and religions coming into this country they too will want their traditions and beliefs to shine as brightly as the traditional Christmas values. All religions within this country need to become more tolerant. All people in this country need to understand that their way of thinking and their beliefs are not the only way of thinking and believing. All the governments within this country must start to realize that what may appear as harmless to one part of society is actually offensive to another. As we become more and more diverse, we must start following the dictates of that wise philosopher Rodney King and we must all just try to get along. No one gets along by making these incidences into court decision. Rather, we need to all start to get along without court dictates but with just common sense and courtesy.