(by Randy Hall, CNSNews.com) – A Christmas-themed event to raise money at a public elementary school in Warwick, N.Y., has been altered to accommodate a parent’s complaints that the program would illegally spotlight a “religious” figure – Santa Claus.
“Breakfast With Santa” has since been changed to “Winter Wonderland Breakfast,” and — in an effort to be inclusive of all beliefs — the bearded one will now be joined at the Dec. 9 event by Frosty the Snowman.
Organizers made the changes after one parent charged that she and others in the community were offended that the Parent Teacher Association at the Sanfordville Elementary School was sponsoring a program geared toward one religion.
That parent, who did not wish to have her name used, wrote a letter to the school board asserting that Santa represents Christmas — a Christian holiday — and by law, a public school is not allowed to promote religion.
According to the Warwick Advertiser, the PTA offered to include Hanukkah traditions in the event, but the parent said she felt this still wasn’t fair because it included religious activities.
“I look forward to sponsoring an event that is within the law and inclusive of all,” the parent wrote in a letter to the school superintendent, Dr. Frank Greenhall. “This is not an argument about religion; it is about the law of our land. Discrimination is simply detestable.”
Greenhall then contacted an attorney, who advised him in a letter that the district “should, at a minimum, modify the events to avoid potential litigation.”
The complainant suggested Frosty the Snowman as an alternative icon, and the school eventually agreed to have both Frosty and Santa.
Mike Johnson, senior legal counsel for the conservative Alliance Defense Fund, told Cybercast News Service the situation was “just absurd.”
“My general reaction is probably the same as 95 percent of Americans when they hear about something like this,” Johnson said. “It’s ridiculous that we have to think twice about whether it’s OK to celebrate Christmas in public.”
While acknowledging that Saint Nicholas, a Dutch bishop who had a reputation for giving gifts in secret, “clearly was the original figure that Santa is based upon,” he noted that “most people would recognize Santa Claus himself as a secular-type figure.”
“The underlying principle here is that the First Amendment does not guarantee any of us a right not to be offended,” Johnson said. “These radical leftist types are arguing that just because 95 percent of Americans, according to recent polling, celebrate Christmas, they ought not to have that right” since a person with a different view might object.
“There’s probably a small percentage of evangelical Christians in this country who don’t celebrate Halloween, but would any of these leftists argue that Christians have a right to ruin the party for everyone who wants to celebrate it?” Johnson asked. “Do they have the right to tell you that you can’t wish them a happy Halloween? Of course not.
“This is ultimately about religious liberty,” Johnson asserted. “Everyone’s rights and beliefs should be respected, and no one should be discriminated against.”
Darlene Baratto, who is chairing the PTA event, told the Advertiser that, since it falls on a Saturday and attendance is optional, no one is being discriminated against.
“We have a beautiful background people can have a picture in front of,” Baratto said. “That wasn’t good enough. We changed the name, colors, the background,” but that did not satisfy the complaining parent. “She was not open to anything. We’ll have 300 or so kids who are disappointed.”
Lisa Roca, another member of the breakfast committee, disputed the idea that Santa was anything but a secular character.
“Many churches try to take Santa out of Christmas because he is secular, not religious,” she told the newspaper. “Their Christmas plays have nothing to do with Santa.”
Catholic League President Bill Donohue called the events at the school an “exercise in tyranny.”
“There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution, of course, that bans ‘Breakfast with Santa’ from taking place in a public school,” Donohue said in a statement. “This has nothing to do with the law — it has everything to do with bowing to the pressure of bigots.”
A number of calls to the school and the PTA seeking comment for this article were not returned by press time.
Published at CNSNews.com on Nov. 30, 2006. Reprinted here Dec. 1 with permission from Cybercast News Service. Visit the website at CNSNews.com.
1. a) How many parents complained about a “Breakfast With Santa” fundraiser being held by the PTA of a New York Elementary School?
b) For what reason did she complain?
2. a) What offer did the PTA make that the parent rejected as still unfair?
b) Why did she say it was still unfair?
3. Why did the school district change the event to meet the parent’s demands?
4. Read the arguments given by the parent against the “Breakfast With Santa” fundraiser (para. 6) and the others who say the parents’ complaint is not reasonable:
Mike Johnson of Alliance Defense Fund (para. 9-14)
Darlene Baratto, PTA chairman (para. 15-16)
Lisa Roca, committee chairman (17-18)
Bill Donohue, Catholic League President (para. 19-20)
Which person do you think makes the best argument for or against? Why?
5. a) What is Christmas a celebration of?
b) Define secular and religious.
c) Is Santa a secular or religious figure?
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