Virginia Seuffert who writes for the Wednesday Journal of oak Park and River Forest on conservative issues, Catholic family life and home schooling writes about this 'December dilemma'.
This column is being written right after Thanksgiving, when even atheists - who do not acknowledge the existence of a deity to give thanks to - are happy to soak their employers for a paid day off. We now move on to that special time of year when the local public schools wrestle with the "December dilemma." For those of you who do not pay attention to such things, the "December dilemma" is just how much Christmas should be put into Christmas in our public schools.
District 97 publishes guidelines for teachers that, on the surface, seem to offer a fair balance between promoting one set of beliefs over another without banishing religion entirely from Oak Park classrooms. To paraphrase, symbols connected to a particular religious holiday - the guidelines give the example of a Christmas tree - may be used as a teaching aid, but not as a classroom decoration. This enables teachers to avoid "promoting" religion in any way. Apparently there is some fear that a lit-up evergreen with shiny bulbs might be seen as an enticement to embrace Christianity.
While it would be wrong for government schools to promote religious faith, the rule is silly in many ways. Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, atheist, agnostic, Wiccan and whatever children practically trip over Christmas-themed decorations at shopping malls, beginning in early fall, and somehow manage to avoid converting to Christianity.
A recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights might just give us an insight into an alternative view of the "December dilemma." The court ordered all crucifixes removed from the walls of Italian public school classrooms as they might "bother" students of other faiths or no faith at all. The response has been extraordinary. The mayor of Sezzadio has set a fine of 500 for anyone who removes a crucifix from a public place. Officials in Trapani and Sassuolo have acquired dozens more crucifixes to display in their public schools. In Montegrotto Terme, civic billboards now display a crucifix and the phrase, "We will not take it down."
Italians are not particularly devout Catholics, only 30 percent attend Mass on Sunday, and that number dips to 15 percent in major cities like Milan. Italian Minister of Education Mariastella Gelmini saw the court's ruling as stripping away centuries of Italian identity. She said, "The history of Italy is full of symbols and if they are eliminated, a part of us will end up being eliminated,"
Contrary to the recent statement by the president, the United States was founded by Christians on Christian principles. Almost 80 percent of the United States' population is still Christian or Jewish. Other groups have arrived more recently, attracted to our unique religious tolerance. Our nation is built on a rich tradition, and our national identity is only enhanced by the occasional Christmas tree or menorah brightening up classrooms. They are part of what we have been and who we are now. Symbols threaten no one, but their loss threatens us all.
Merry Christmas and happy Hanukkah!