Monday, December 11, 2006

And that's all I want to hear about it....

Respect for others is not an attack

And now we get to have a big old hullabaloo over Christmas trees in an airport.
The airport managers ordered the plastic trees removed and boxed up after a rabbi asked to have an 8-foot-tall menorah displayed next to the largest tree in the international arrival hall.

Port of Seattle staff felt adding the menorah would have required adding symbols for other religions and cultures in the Northwest, said Terri-Ann Betancourt, the airport's spokeswoman. The holidays are the busiest season at the airport, she said, and staff didn't have time to play cultural anthropologists.

"We decided to take the trees down because we didn't want to be exclusive," she said. "We're trying to be thoughtful and respectful, and will review policies after the first of the year."

The decision, made in consultation with the Port's elected board of commissioners, interrupts a decades-long tradition at the airport. No sooner had the trees come down than their removal spread something less than holiday cheer across religious groups.

Elazar Bogomilsky, the rabbi who last month asked that a menorah be displayed, said he was "appalled" by the Port's reaction to what he believed to be a simple request. There are public menorah lightings at the White House and cities across the Northwest, he said. Next week, Gov. Christine Gregoire will help light a menorah under the Capitol Dome in Olympia.
I don't know about everyone else, but I'm tired of this discussion and I imagine a lot of other people are as well.

Yes, free speech issues are important, and yes, in this particular matter it seems things could have been handled better all the way around.

There is no end to it. Certain elements in American Christianity insist on having their beliefs validated at every turn and in every place, as if an hour or two away from symbols of their faith will somehow weaken it.

On one level, it's an airport, for crying out loud. It's there to transport people, although you can probably hear the Lord's name frequently if you listen carefully in the concourse just past the security checkpoints.

Traditions are nice, and decorations are nice. Most people don't have a problem with Christmas trees or menorahs being displayed.

In a larger context, Christianity is not under assault in this country, although doubtless Worst Person in the World Bill O'Reilly and others will run their same tired play regarding this particular matter.

Christianity and Christmas have arguably never been stronger in this country. People are free to worship as they choose, when they choose and pretty much where they choose. Which is as it should be.

Of course we should respect other religions and allow them to be represented, even if the delay by the port is unfortunate. It's not just a legal matter, a long time ago it might even have been called good manners.

Instead of getting locked in media wars over cultural supremacy, our society might even have taken an interest in the beliefs and customs of other religions, especially one so closely linked with Christianity as Judaism.

But then that would require a genuine interest in and respect for others. How did we get things so wrong in this country, where trying to be polite and even (gasp!) respectful of others constitutes some kind of grave attack?

Thanks, Republican Noise Machine.

Brace yourselves, Port of Seattle officials. You have committed an offense far worse than say, launching a preemptive war, you have dared to consider how best to respect everyone, and you were slow about it.

For this you shall be dragged through the valley of the shadow of the Worst Person in the World, and then it will be Christmas, and then everyone forgets about it until this time next year. Happy holidays.

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