Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Christmas silliness begins

The Mayor's office in Chicago has persuaded the organizers of Christkindlmarket, something billed as a traditional German-American "holiday" market, to drop New Line Cinemas as a sponsor and, in particular, to exclude a display that would have promoted New Line's new film, The Nativity Story. The market is held on Daley Plaza and the city said that the display (consisting of excerpts from the film) would be " insensitive to the many people of different faiths who come to enjoy the market for its food and unique gifts."

This is so stupid in so many ways that it's hard to know where to begin. First, I don't know what a traditional German-American "holiday" celebration would be because "traditionally" all those German-Americans (or at least those who were not, like my ancestors, Jewish) were celebrating Christmas. Indeed, "Christkind" means "Christ child." That promotion of this movie was apparently a new intrusion of the festival's namesake into the proceedings suggests that the whole thing was not very traditional.

Second, why would someone attending something called "Christkindlmarket" be offended - or even surprised - by reference to the "traditional" German-American belief about Christmas? If I were to attend a traditional Islamic festival, I would expect to see references to Allah. When I worked out at the Jewish Community Center, I was not surprised to see decorations celebrating the Jewish High Holy Days. There was no reason for me to be offended by the expression of a religion that I do not practice or, although this doesn't apply much to the latter example, by a set of beliefs that I do not share.

Third, if someone actually is offended, why should we cater to his or her sensitivity? Such a person is, essentially, asking that the "traditional" German-American celebration of Christmas be bowdlerized to remove whatever he or she does not like. Maybe I think that Malcolm X has had a destructive and negative impact on race relations in this country, does this mean that I get to demand that African World Festival remove any reference to him so that I can enjoy my preferred version of an African-American cultural celebration?

Fourth, this is another example of the shadow Establishment Clause. There would be no legal problem presented by references to the Nativity made by a private party at this celebration even though it is on city property. The law is quite clear on that. But often bureaucrats who undertake to "enforce" the law don't understand it - or, as I suspect has happened here, believe that it should really make public spaces religion free zones.

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