Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas (Twi-) Light Zone - Ashland, OR

The Pacific Northwest has long been known for its political correctness, and a principal in Ashland, Oregon recently embraced some of those PC principles at her school. Michelle Zundel, the Principal at Bellview Elementary School, removed a holiday giving tree, which displayed tags containing the names of gifts for needy children. Fearing that this ventured way too much into celebrating "Christmas", the principal removed the tree during Thanksgiving break and replaced it with, alas, two snowmen. So, in a misguided attempt to be legal and perhaps not offend someone, she ended up offending a whole bunch of parents. Of course, there was justification, according to Ms. Zundel:

"The Christmas tree, while a secular symbol according to the Supreme Court, does symbolize Christmas, and if you are entering a public school and your family does not celebrate Christmas, then it feels like a religious symbol."

Christian legal advocacy group Liberty Counsel got involved and sent a letter to Zundel, to further educate her about the law.

The good news here is that the principal reversed her earlier decision. In an e-mail to a Liberty Counsel supporter, she wrote:

"I am pleased to report that as a result of our community meeting last week, a Giving Tree once again decorates the halls of Bellview Elementary School. It is a Southern Oregon Peco Pine. Fortunately, this incident never interfered with the project. The 25 families will receive gifts and food for the holidays. Ironically, the reason I removed the tree was to create a greater
sense of inclusion in our school. That decision had exactly the opposite effect. As a leader, I have an ongoing responsibility to reflect on the results of my actions, consider diverse feedback and occasionally, change course."

There are several takeaways from this incident. For one thing, it shows that leaders can be wrong in their actions, and sometimes we just have to admit that we made a mistake. The principal recogized the error of her actions, and corrected them. Also, it is another signal to
people in authority that attempting to placate one or a select few individuals could result in offending a much larger number. This is the case so often with the celebration of Christmas. In addition to the constitutional issues, to remove expressions of the holiday could bring a
far greater outcry from people who do celebrate it (and studies show that 9 out
of 10 Americans do!!).

And, isn't it interesting that this year we are hearing about secular symbols, such as Christmas trees and Santa Claus, being limited. This is a result of clear misunderstanding about the law, mixed with officials being intimidated by the fear of either a lawsuit or the complaints of a select few parents. Thankfully, education about these issues regarding Christmas can help to empower officials.

We now look forward to my children enthusiastically celebrating "Christmas" holidays!!

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