Friday, March 02, 2007

You call this persecution?

The Supreme Court recently refused to hear a case in which Christians claim they are being discriminated against.

At issue in Skoros v. City of New York was whether the city's public school system is impermissibly promoting Judaism and Islam while conveying a message of disapproval of Christianity. School rules allow the Jewish menorah and the Muslim star and crescent in multireligious holiday displays but not nativity scenes depicting the birth of Jesus.

Sounds pretty bad, right? But wait:

The city says its policy treats all religions consistently by excluding "depictions of deities, religious texts, or scenes of worship such as a Christian nativity scene," says Leonard Koerner, a lawyer for the school district, in his brief to the court. "As the Christian nativity scene explicitly depicts the Christian deity [the baby Jesus] as the center of a scene of worship, it falls on the wrong side of the line."

In other words, Christians are free to display Christian symbols, but not a depiction of Jesus or the Bible. The same restrictions apply to all religions. Ergo, no discrimination.

This exposes the general hollowness of the "war on Christmas" charge. While it is possible to find instances where Christian expression is in fact suppressed while other religious expression is allowed, they are isolated and rare. And they usually arise out of a simple-if-bungled desire to be sensitive to minority religions, inasmuch as the people doing the suppressing are often Christians themselves.

It gets even sillier when activists claim that Christians are "persecuted" in this country. That's just nonsense; in a democracy, it is essentially impossible for a majority to be persecuted. Name a single Christian who has been jailed, tortured or executed simply for being Christian. Name a single Christian who has been prevented from attending the church of their choice.

What *is* happening is that the unquestioned Christian domination of cultural life in America is being questioned, and pushed back in some areas. There is increasingly vocal opposition to Christians using the levers of governmental power to promote their religion, and some longstanding practices are being revised as a result. But that's not persecution. Some of us would say it's a long overdue correction.

The sad thing is that Christians are, in fact, persecuted in other countries, sometimes horribly. By trying to claim such victim status here, Christians do their overseas bretheren a disservice by cheapening the meaning of the word.

I'm sympathetic to the plaintiffs on one score: the district allowing Christmas trees to be a symbol of Christianity. The plaintiffs don't like that because Christmas trees, while associated with Christianity, are not actually Christian symbols. Fair enough. Christians should be able to choose the symbol that represents their faith, as long as it doesn't violate the district policy in other respects. There are plenty of choices: A cross should do the trick, or rosary beads for Catholicism or a communion cup or a fish symbol.

There is another worthwhile question here: As long as the district is allowing religious displays, why restrict the content at all? I can understand banning content that explicitly attacks other religions or threatens nonbelievers with eternal damnation or the like, but if you're going to have a Christmas display alongside the Hannukah display, who cares whether there's a nativity scene in it or not?

But that's a separate issue. Having decided to write standards for such displays, the district's obligation is to make the standard objective and apply it fairly. They appear to have done so. And so the plaintiffs' complaint is without merit.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many lawsuits and many arguments could be avoided if the law regarding religion in schools was not extended to prohibit any mention or symbols of religion. Relax. The nativity scene on one day is not going to cause mass conversions.

There is a difference between acknowledging all the religions represented and evangelizing for any of them

3/05/2007 9:55 AM  

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