Atheists, believers revive war over public holiday displays

Remember when it was annoying that the spooky Halloween leftovers were barely gone when the Christmas trees came out in full bloom? Well, now we can add to that the time we’re supposed to publicly gnaw on the bone of contention over God and Christmas and public displays of belief.

The Rocky Mountain News reports that a group of atheists and Freethinkers plan to shell out five grand for 11 billboards in Denver and Colorado Springs. The message: “Don’t believe in God? – You are not alone.”

According to the Rocky, the sponsors wanted to put up signs in Fort Collins and Greeley, “but a billboard company refused to carry the message.”

Meanwhile in Golden, Rabbi Levi Brackman, director of Judaism in the Foothills, wants to install a 6- to 8-foot menorah on city property next to a conifer that traditionally is strung with lights just like a Christmas, er, holiday tree.

The city has responded with a proposed policy to eliminate all religious symbols and only allow displays of snowflakes, icicles, snowmen, snowballs, ice skates, skis, penguins, polar bears and other animals. The new policy would allow lights on trees — as in Christmas, er, holiday trees.

The rabbi is not happy about it.

“This is secularist discrimination against religion,” Brackman was quoted saying. “And the other thing is that . . . Christmas trees are not secular. You won’t find a secular person from the Jewish or Muslim traditions who celebrates the holidays with lights on trees.”

The latest skirmishes mark the latest in several years’ worth of holy wars over public displays of Christmas and Hannukah and shopping and other indications that December is just one calendar flip away.

In the mid 1990, the Rev. Jim Hagan, a Christian church leader in Colorado Springs, launched a movement of sorts when he went shopping at the mall and was appalled when no one would wish him a Merry Christmas. He subsequently took an ad out in the local daily newspaper threatening to boycott stores whose employees opted for the more generic “Happy Holidays.”

That act has since spawned a litigious army, with high-paid lawyers from right-wing law firms like Liberty Council and the Alliance Defense Fund warning that the ACLU is out to destroy Christmas by filing lawsuits against schools who wouldn’t let children hand out candy canes (ostensibly because they are shaped like shepherd’s crooks.)

Indeed, the movement has become a cottage industry of sorts, with these organizations peddling such products as the Ten Commandments Bracelet (for $60) and the “Take Your Hat Off” CD and activity book to teach children to show respect by taking their hats off when the flag goes by.

Brace yourselves. Thanksgiving is still more than two weeks away.

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Cara Degette

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