creators.com opinion web
Liberal Opinion Conservative Opinion
Susan Estrich
18 Apr 2014
Senators at Play

With luck, Michelle Friedland, a highly qualified appointee to the United States Court of Appeals for the … Read More.

16 Apr 2014
Obamacare, Part Two

As I walked into the pharmacy, the technician who has kept track of all of my prescriptions for years was on … Read More.

4 Apr 2014
The Best Government Money Can Buy

The Supreme Court has done it again. By a 5-4 vote, with the court's five Republican appointees on one side … Read More.

Christmas in Santa Monica

Comment

Christmas in my home city of Santa Monica is different this year. It used to be that there were elaborate displays depicting the birth of Jesus in the big public park by the ocean. I've always believed that Christmas is a major religious holiday, and the display reflected that. According to people who know more about such things than I do, the large dioramas told the story of Jesus' birth according to the Gospels of Luke and Matthew.

That is precisely what non-Christian groups objected to. So the Santa Monica city council responded, initially, by saying there would be a lottery for who got to showcase their faith — or lack thereof — in the park. I didn't pay much attention to the displays last year, but apparently they were enough to convince the city council to give up on the lottery and instead adopt a rule that there would be no religious — or anti-religious — displays in the public park.

And, of course, that led to a lawsuit, which the city won. There may or may not be something unconstitutional about a religious display in a public park, but as a professor of First Amendment law, it's hard to see the case that it's unconstitutional not to have a display. The court agreed, and this year there is no display — of the nativity scene, anyway. There have been plenty of public displays of anger, many of them directed at those terrible atheists who are ruining Christmas.

I decided a long time ago that even though I think Christmas is a religious holiday, even though my childhood is full of memories of feeling different (and lesser) in places where it should not have mattered (like public school, where the rule that the girl with the longest hair got to play Mary in the school play was abandoned my year because — consider the irony — it would be wrong to have a Jewish girl play Mary), I don't fight about creches in public places. It's not worth the backlash, not worth all the angry letters about taking the Christ out of Christmas (I believe in doing just the opposite).

But I can't help but speak out about the ugliness of the debate in the city where I live. Almost every day, I pick up a newspaper or turn on the radio and hear another attack on the godless atheists who are supposedly propagating hate by asking that public parks not endorse any religion. Just to be clear: It isn't just Christians launching the attacks. The one that caught my eye recently in a Los Angeles paper was written by a rabbi who used it as an opportunity to defend the country's religious roots against the God-forsaken atheists.

The First Amendment includes two key clauses. One protects the right of every American to the "free exercise" of his or her religion. The other prohibits a government "establishment" of religion. Together they reflect a philosophy that has served us well over the past two centuries: that the best protection for religion and religious people is to give the individual both the power and freedom to practice as they choose, and to give the government neither. The idea that not having a religious display in a public park threatens religion is, to me, ludicrous. Christianity is strong enough in Santa Monica to survive the threat of a handful of atheists. There are many, many private places — shopping malls a block away, churchyards, front yards and the rest — where the birth of Jesus is celebrated.

As I write this, Jews are celebrating Hanukkah. The way I learned my Jewish history, Hanukkah is actually a pretty minor holiday and would be treated that way if it fell in any month other than December. But in an effort to see that their children don't feel left out, many Jews treat Hanukkah with more attention than the "big" holidays that fall in months like September and October. That's their choice — another aspect of religious freedom — although I have to point out that there really is no such thing as a Hanukkah bush.

But I don't need to see a menorah in a public park to remember that I'm Jewish. And it's hard for me to see the hardship suffered by those who have to look elsewhere for a creche — or simply put one up in their own front yard.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2012 CREATORS.COM



Comments

5 Comments | Post Comment
Amen! Happy Hanukkah Susan.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Oldtimer
Wed Dec 12, 2012 4:57 AM
Ms. Estrich wrote: "I don't fight about creches in public places. It's not worth the backlash, not worth all the angry letters about taking the Christ out of Christmas (I believe in doing just the opposite)."

First, let me point out that I'm an agnostic. I don't have a dog in this fight. That having been said, let me say that I think the above statement of Ms. Estrich's goes to the heart of the matter here.

Most rational non-Christians can pass by a creche display and not become violently agitated. I certainly have never felt the need to rid the public space of religious displays. So what does motivate the individuals who brought the lawsuits that killed the creches?

In the end it comes down to fanaticism. Atheism is, like any religion, a faith based belief. To be an true atheist, you have to KNOW that a God does not exist. Unfortunately (fortunately?) the existence or non-existence of a divine being is a question that the scientific method can not answer, even in principle. Simply put, the belief that a God either exists or doesn't exist can not be supported by either science or logic. It is a faith based belief. Whether atheists realize or not, they essentially have a religious belief (just not the type we commonly associate with religion). (I should point out in this regard that most religious individuals I know are way ahead of the atheists in this regard. They generally realize they have a faith based belief and are comfortable with it. Most atheists I have known cling to the untenable belief that they can prove their prejudices with science. Sadly they don't realize they have the same 'contagion' that they so despise in others.)

So back to the creches. Essentially what has happened here is that the wacko fringe of a faith based belief (i.e., The militant atheists) have been allowed to use the law to further their beliefs by tearing down the displays of what they believe to be 'false belief' systems. They have been allowed to act just like religious fanatics have acted for centuries.

Most of us look at this in wonder because we intuitively realize that tolerance is the only way we can hope to live together. Sadly, removing the creches strikes a blow against tolerance and encourages more intolerant behavior in return (e.g., Angry letters to the editor deriding the bad atheists). Removing the creches is no victory for rationality or our civilization. It is just one more blow in a cultural war we should all be striving to diminish by the use of tolerance.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Old Navy
Wed Dec 12, 2012 5:20 AM
Re: Old Navy Thank you. I've never quite been able to put my finger on it, but it always seemed like the atheists want to 'convert' everyone to their religion, the very thing they accuse others of doing? Like you I'm not a religious person but I've seen religion bring peace to people in times of need, across denominations. I hope the atheists get the same peace from their beliefs but can't you folks stop fostering your belief system on me or my children or my grand children?
Comment: #3
Posted by: Ed
Wed Dec 12, 2012 9:07 AM
Re: Old Navy Thank you. I've never quite been able to put my finger on it, but it always seemed like the atheists want to 'convert' everyone to their religion, the very thing they accuse others of doing? Like you I'm not a religious person but I've seen religion bring peace to people in times of need, across denominations. I hope the atheists get the same peace from their beliefs but can't you folks stop fostering your belief system on me or my children or my grand children?
Comment: #4
Posted by: Ed
Wed Dec 12, 2012 9:07 AM
Last year the wintertime displays at Santa Monica included several from atheist groups and they certainly showed what was unique about the city. A poster saying, "Reasons Greetings!" was well within the spirit of the occasion. But the sign proclaiming, "Religions are all alike--founded upon fables and mythologies--Thomas Jefferson," seemed a little hostile. Then there was the large graphic which had pictures of Neptune, Jesus, Santa Claus, and the Devil with the caption, "What myths do you see?" The intent appeared dedicated more to hurting people's feelings than to illustrating the truth of someone's beliefs.

The problem is that there is no Atheist's Day. Rather, the doctrine chooses a holiday from another religion and piggybacks on that. If I celebrate my birthday, why should that be the one day when you have to declare that birthdays are stupid? It's as if every time Microsoft showed a commercial Apple Computer got part of the time spot to broadcast its message. Inadvertently, in an effort to be fair, the government has given undue influence to the iconoclasts. Better not to have the pageant.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Cowboy Jay
Wed Dec 12, 2012 10:41 AM
Already have an account? Log in.
New Account  
Your Name:
Your E-mail:
Your Password:
Confirm Your Password:

Please allow a few minutes for your comment to be posted.

Enter the numbers to the right:  
Creators.com comments policy
More
Susan Estrich
Apr. `14
Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa
30 31 1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 1 2 3
About the author About the author
Write the author Write the author
Printer friendly format Printer friendly format
Email to friend Email to friend
View by Month
Marc Dion
Marc DionUpdated 21 Apr 2014
Newspaper ContributorsUpdated 18 Apr 2014
Jamie Stiehm
Jamie StiehmUpdated 18 Apr 2014

11 Feb 2011 The Shirtless Congressman

11 Nov 2009 The San Francisco Democrat

4 Apr 2008 Grace and Acceptance