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Life Arts    H4'ed 11/21/14

Deconstruct the Holy from the Festive Xmas Holiday?

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Message mahdi ibn-ziyad

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There should be no "War on Christmas" as some conservative pundits would describe the evolving de-emphasis on the religious character of the Xmas holiday. Rather we need religious and cultural "peace and good will" in our broad American diversity.

Is there a place for religion in publically funded institutions? Absolutely. There have long been public spaces for religious practice. Examples: the paid chaplains who pray and deliver brief homilies in the US House and Senate or in the 50 statehouses; or those who are careerists in the US military. I was a Protestant chaplain's office supervisor in a mock prisoner of war camp/detachment of the US Army Reserves at Fort Omaha, NE from 1976-1980; this after an 8 year US Air Force stint in the Strategic Air Command; headquarters Offutt Air Force Base, also near Omaha. Many of the reservists in our reserve police and prisoner of war detachments were then beginning to learn rudimentary Arabic because it was felt that we would probably be fighting and taking war prisoners in the Middle East in the near future.

That was way back before the Cold War was over and global communism, not global Islam, was the highlighted enemy.

Prayer or religious instruction by teachers or administrators in public schools is illegal, while public school children themselves, as individuals or in groups, are allowed religious privileges on school time and on school grounds. Can religious holidays may be part of the public school teaching curriculum?

The answer is very much a yes according the First Amendment Center section of

"Teachers must be alert to the distinction between teaching about religious holidays, which is permissible, and celebrating religious holidays, which is not. Recognition of and information about holidays may focus on how and when they are celebrated, their origins, histories and generally agreed-upon meanings. If the approach is objective and sensitive, neither promoting nor inhibiting religion, this study can foster understanding and mutual respect for differences in belief".

The First Amendment Center is also okay with the careful use of religious symbols in public schools:

"Provided they are used only as examples of cultural or religious heritage, religious symbols are permissible to use as teaching aids or resources. Religious symbols may be displayed only on a temporary basis as part of the academic program. Students may choose to create artwork with religious symbols, but teachers should not assign or suggest such creations".

In national attention grabbing news involving religion in the public schools, we now have the curious case of a Maryland school board that does not permit Muslims equal status or just parallel with Christians and Jews and has actually canceled the name of Christmas off its observed holiday list in act of rejecting Muslims petitions for fairness. National headlines announced that Montgomery County of Maryland Board of Education, the state's largest and very diverse district, with voted 7 to 1 to eliminate the names of Christian and Jewish holidays in their school system because they did not want to bow to Muslim American pressure "to give equal billing to the Muslim holy day of Eid al-Adha", Washington Post, 11.11.2014.

The board struck Christmas, Easter, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah from holiday closing calendar but left the closed days those named events formerly represented so that now the kids get a winter and spring break. In actual practice nothing has changed except the names of the days.

Yet, all hell is breaking loose in conservative religious circles as attested to by many Internet and social media outlets that have mainly attacked Muslims for having the audacity to press the school system and demand equality with Christians as the Jews did earlier on the American scene. Several Muslim leaders suggest the board's decision was designed to deliberately "alienate other religion communities."

Arch-conservative ideologue Bill O'Reilly voiced his anger , calling the decision part of "the ongoing War on Christmas," and it's all the Muslims' fault" (11.13.2014,

"In Montgomery County, Maryland, there'll be no mention of Christmas or any other religious holiday on the school calendars going forward," O'Reilly noted. "That's because a Muslim group did something."

On 11.14. 2014 CBS news captured some of the anger vented about the school board's decision; anger among Christian and Jewish parents, and anger of Muslims who only wanted their Eid al-Adha to be included; Muslims wanted equality but in no way wanted Christmas or the Jewish holidays to be cancelled. The decision has upset parents of all faiths.

Some of the comments CBS reported were:

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Dr. Ibn-Ziyad has demonstrated an abiding concern for racial justice, humanitarian and environmental issues and has been active as a member or leader (1988-present) in the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (Washington, DC), the (more...)
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