Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Inquisition by plastic angels

I have a piece in this coming Sunday's Journal Sentinel on the Christmas Wars, so I don't want to address that directly. I do want to comment on the battle of the Green Bay city hall.

It's turned into a mess. The city seems to have tried to deflect any constitutional objection by turning the city hall into a limited public forum. This concept applies to circumstances in which government has opened up something - usually a building or a meeting room - for use by private speakers. The government has some leeway in setting the subject but none in picking and choosing among viewpoints. So, if it permits a library meeting room to be opened up to discuss contemporary issues, it can't exclude any point of view on contemporary issues and, the Supreme Court has made clear, cannot exclude religious perspective on those issues either.

Having done this, it has to permit Wiccan displays. It would have to permit atheist displays. It has to accept the Festivus pole. It may even have to accept the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It turns the roof into a a Babel of conflicting symbols. It makes it a farce.

The proper way to do this, lawyers will tell you , is to include various symbols of the Christmas season. Throw up Santa Clause, include a Menorah and maybe you can sneak in a creche.

My own view is that government acknowledgement of the fact that most of its citizens are celebrating a religious holiday ought to present no real constitutional problem. It doesn't establish religion. It doesn't oppress nonbelievers. Government ought to act with sensitivity to minorities but attempting to enforce a rigid rule of neutrality among any and all symbols imagineable is a fool's game.

However, we can be sure of this. If the Freedom From Religion Foundation has the time to worry about ceramic figures in Peshtigo and Green Bay, we can be fairly certain that there is no real threat of theocracy.

2 comments:

3rd way said...

I hope this doesn't get more coverage in the national media. The rest of the nation already thinks of beer swilling morons wearing cheeseheads when they think of Greenbay. Now their city council is confirming the stereotype. The best thing they could do now would be to try to control the damage they have done to their reputations and either allow festivus poles and anything else the citizens want to put up there or take everything down all together.

Whatever they do is going to upset the nutcase that tore down the Wiccan wreath. As a person standing on the sidelines without a dog in this fight it seems more like there is a group waging a war for a religous Christmas than there is anyone waging a war against it.

3rd way said...

I stand corrected. The only people that should be satisfied with the councils and mayors decision are the militant warrriors for religious Christmas. So far it looks like they are winning this battle in their war. I have a feeling this battle isn't over yet.