I feel like I have read the same story again and again. I don’t understand what people don’t get about the simple words of the First Amendment. Yet once again, we have an issue of a municipality apparently raising a (literal) banner in support of sectarian values. “Keep Christ in Christmas,” urges the banner. (Are they worried about our spelling skills? Concerned about “Xmas“?)
Last week, the Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote a letter to the mayor of Pitman, New Jersey, Mike Batten, to ask that the banner be moved to private property. The response appears to be, “It already is.”
Borough attorney Brian Duffield says that the sign is hung from a bank building on one end and a privately-owned telephone pole on the other. FFRF said that it wrote the letter after hearing from a Pitman resident who saw Pitman firefighters putting the banner up between two city light poles.
Either way, it seems like a juvenile bit of mental gymnastics. Duffield said that the borough can regulate signs and requires permits for that sort of banner, but said that because it’s not on government property there’s nothing else that can be done.
In other words, the city of Pitman is hovering its index finger an inch from our collective nose and saying, “I’m not touching you!”
The banner has a subtitle which reads “Knights of Columbus 6247,” which only makes it worse, not better. This explicitly Catholic organization should not be allowed a monopoly on government property to propagandize. Even worse, it is part of a 5-decade-long nation-wide campaign of such “reminders.” (It’s in the name, people, we get it).
The problem is that the endorsement of religion is certainly implied, and Mayor Batten should do something about it. Though he makes his feelings clear about it, using the age-old argument I wish would go the way of the Dodo: “It’s sad, because the beginning of our town was religious and we have 13 churches. And I’m surprised because a banner has hung there for many years and we’ve never heard complaints before.”
Translation: “All you people who are marginalized and ostracized should stay that way forever! It makes me sad that you’re finally protesting the unfair privilege of my religion!”
Aside from the fact that Christianity actually co-opted other holidays to create Christ-Mass, there’s the very obvious fact that many people don’t include Christ in their holidays at all. These sorts of banners only serve to exclude and marginalize all of those people who either don’t celebrate Christmas or who do but have no need for Jebus in their celebrations.
One local resident had this to say about the issue: “But why should (FFRF) step on the rights of other people? I have my right to celebrate Christmas, just as a Jewish person has their right to celebrate Hanukah. Just as an African-American has the right to celebrate Kwaanza. It’s up to the individual.”
“Rights.” You keep using that word; I don’t think it means what you think it means.
One way or another, the banner needs to come down. My favorite part of this story is FFRF’s alternative proposal: their own banner. The proposed text:
“At this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail. There are not gods, no devils, no angels, nor heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds. Freedom From Religion Foundation.”
Now that’s a reminder.