I read an article today that in one form or another comes up every year around this time of year. The full text is here. The article mentions that the Birmingham City Council (Birmingham, as in England) is considering an Equality Bill. This bill “combines all previous equality legislation in the U.K., and includes a range of new provisions.” Now, I’m all for equality, except in this sense:
“Under existing legislation,” Monsignor Andrew Summersgill, general secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference wrote, “we have seen the development of a risk-averse culture with outcomes as ridiculous as reports of a local authority instructing tenants to take down Christmas lights in case they might offend Muslim neighbours, or of authorities removing the word Christmas out of cultural sensitivity to everyone except Christians.”
And, just so you think that the Monsignor is exaggerating, the Birmingham City Council has officially changed the name of its Tree Lighting ceremony to “Winterval.”
Does this sound familiar? In the United States, we have the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to fight for people’s rights. Around this time of year they seem to concentrate that fight on trying to remove Christian or Jewish holiday symbols from city property or public schools.
This is in direct contrast to how I was brought up. I went to a public elementary school in the 1970s. Every year around this time of year in my elementary school we had inclusive holiday celebrations. Admittedly, my elementary school was not that diverse. Christians and Jews mostly. Perhaps a few non-believers. But, in deference to both Christians and Jews, we learned about Christmas and Hanukkah. We sang Christmas carols and Hanukkah songs both in music class and at our school holiday assembly. The mood was inclusive, not exclusive.
The United States of America was founded, at least in theory, on inclusivity. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” We are a country as diverse as the whole world itself, with people from every nation and every religious background. Didn’t those who came here (remember the pilgrims anyone?) come here so that they could worship freely? Why can’t we in the 21st Century learn about other cultures and religions and embrace all that is good about them, rather than be offended by them? Why do we have to remove all symbols of this season, rather than include those of all religious faiths?