Merry Christmas, and/or happy something else

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The yearly December dilemma as to what kinds of holiday decorations and celebrations can be sponsored by cities and towns across America continued this week.

  • In Santa Rosa, Calif., some Sonoma County residents are criticizing a decision to remove all stars and angels from Christmas trees in county buildings over concerns that they promote Christianity. While some question whether the decorations are even religious, others say the county is making a big deal out of nothing.

    County Administrator Chris Thomas ordered the decorations removed Dec. 21. He based his decision on a Supreme Court ruling that says governments can celebrate Christmas, but not if the displays have the primary effect of endorsing Christianity.

    Thomas's order was prompted by a complaint from Santa Rosa resident Irv Sutley, an atheist who says the county should not show favoritism to any religion.

    County attorney Sheryl Bratton says the decorations may be legal, but the county risked a lawsuit if they were not removed.

  • The city of Clarksville, Tenn., has agreed to stop funding a Nativity display and create a policy that will ensure that all groups have equal access to the park where it is placed.

    The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee received complaints about the display earlier this year and approached the city about the changes. According to an ACLU news release, Clarksville annually invites a private church to produce the Nativity display, helps pay for the live animals used in the display and promotes it as part of the city's “Christmas on the Cumberland” event.

    Under the agreement, the Nativity display can continue, but Clarksville will no longer help fund it and the church that puts it on, along with any other group wishing to use the McGregor Park Riverwalk, will have to apply to the city.

    Clarksville's mayor's office referred a call for comment to the city's office of public relations, which did not call back.

  • In Cary, N.C., the question is, What do you call a pine tree decorated with lights and ornaments? Residents of the Raleigh suburb may find out next month.

    Multiple news outlets reported that trees decorating the Cary town hall are called “community trees.” Some leaders and residents say they should be called Christmas trees. The debate has filled the town council's inbox with angry e-mails.

    Some say that “community trees” are examples of political correctness gone too far. Others say naming the trees after Christmas excludes residents who don't celebrate the holiday.

    Councilman Don Frantz has wants city council to vote on the issue in January. He says town-hall decorations should include all faiths, but that any tree with presents underneath and Nativity scenes decorating its branches is a Christmas tree.

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