A is for …

So, my lovely wife and I decided to head down to Daley Plaza the other day to visit the annual Christkindlmarket.  Our biggest mistake?  Going on the Sunday before Christmas.  It was crowded.

Chicago Christkindlmarket 2013

We decided next year we will go on a Tuesday afternoon.

The market sits in the shadow of the world famous Chicago Picasso, located in Daley Plaza.  It celebrates all things German, from arts and crafts to food items like gluhwein and potato pancakes.  It also includes a very ornate nativity scene.

Chicago Christkindlmarket - Daley Plaza - 2013

Of course, the problem then is that the Daley Center is a government building, and there are those who take this whole separation of church and state thing way too seriously, and there are people who will now be offended.

Let me stop for a moment to clarify a couple things before I continue.  There are those that will accuse me of being a bleeding heart liberal, and I guess if you have read the last couple of thing I have written, it may seem as if I actually am a bleeding heart liberal. Personally, I see political affiliation like the Kinsey Scale of Human Sexuality.  On one end you have the people that are only super conservative, and at the other, those people who are completely liberal.  But most people fall in the middle somewhere, having views that are both liberal and conservative.

I was raised Roman Catholic, but me and the church had a parting of the ways some years back.  I still believe there is a god, or perhaps gods, but I do not partake in any form of organized religion at this time.  Technically, my children are Jewish, but they have had no formal Jewish upbringing.  Each year at our home, we put up a Christmas Tree.  And it is that, a Christmas Tree.  My lack of religion has not pushed me to a point that I call it a “holiday” tree.  It is a Christmas Tree.

So back to Daley Plaza.  There were no protest or perceived problems with this nativity scene place on a government plaza.  I had thought there might be a menorah somewhere in honor or Hanukkah, but if there was one, I didn’t see it.  What I also did see was any displays for Kwanzaa or Diwali.  The only hint that there was any conflict over the appearance of the nativity was this:

A is for Athist

Sponsored by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the giant A was to represent the Atheist and Agnostics of the world who somehow fell threatened by the nativity placed on government property.  There was no backlash from the city, as they had no problem allowing the organization to put up the display, but judging by the people who stopped by the letter, most seemed to view it as a joke.  If the intent was to enlighten people, in my opinion, this display failed miserably.  Our American way of life is not threatened by Christmas.  If your organization doesn’t want to celebrate Christmas , then don’t.  But this sideshow just made you look foolish.

Most people who viewed the giant A came to the same conclusion that I did.

A is for Assholes.

2 responses to “A is for …

  1. It is important to distinguish between the “public square” and “government” and between “individual” and “government” speech about religion. The constitutional principle of separation of church and state does not purge religion from the public square–far from it. Indeed, the First Amendment’s “free exercise” clause assures that each individual is free to exercise and express his or her religious views–publicly as well as privately. The Amendment constrains only the government not to promote or otherwise take steps toward establishment of religion. As government can only act through the individuals comprising its ranks, when those individuals are performing their official duties (e.g., public school teachers instructing students in class), they effectively are the government and thus should conduct themselves in accordance with the First Amendment’s constraints on government. When acting in their individual capacities, they are free to exercise their religions as they please. (Students also are free to exercise and express their religious views–in a time, manner, and place that does not interfere with school programs and activities.) If their right to free exercise of religion extended even to their discharge of their official responsibilities, however, the First Amendment constraints on government establishment of religion would be eviscerated. While figuring out whether someone is speaking for the government in any particular circumstance may sometimes be difficult, making the distinction is critical.

    With respect to symbols and such, generally, if a monument is displayed “by” a government on its land, then that likely will be regarded as “government speech” to be assessed for compliance with the establishment clause. If a monument is displayed by a private person or group on government land, it may well be regarded as “individual speech” to be evaluated under the free exercise clause. In the latter case, the government, of course, cannot discriminate against particular religions and thus generally must allow other persons or groups equal opportunity to express their religious views on the government land. In sorting this out, much depends on the details of each case.

    It appears that the city allowed individuals to display religious monuments on the plaza and did so equally, allowing all individuals, including atheists, have their say. That is as it should be, which is perhaps why you saw no protests or problems.

    A word should be added about the commonly heard idea that this is all about people easily offended. We’re not talking about the freedom of individuals to say or do something others find offensive; each of us has that freedom. We’re talking about the government weighing in to promote religion. Under our Constitution, our government has no business doing that–REGARDLESS of whether anyone is offended. While this is primarily a constitutional point, it is one that conservatives–small government conservatives–should appreciate from a political standpoint as well.

    While the First Amendment thus constrains government from promoting (or opposing) religion without regard to whether anyone is offended, a court may address the issue only in a suit by someone with “standing” (sufficient personal stake in a matter) to bring suit; in order to show such standing, a litigant may allege he is offended or otherwise harmed by the government’s failure to follow the law; the question whether someone has standing to sue is entirely separate from the question whether the government has violated the Constitution.

    Wake Forest University has published a short, objective Q&A primer on the current law of separation of church and state–as applied by the courts rather than as caricatured in the blogosphere. I commend it to you. http://tiny.cc/6nnnx

    Merry Christmas.

  2. I posted a brief similar post on this.

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