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November 30, 2007

Christmas Tree Back at Missouri State University

Tree It's a symbolic victory--no pun intended.

Missouri State University President Michael T. Nietzel stated in a news release Thursday that the Christmas tree that had been removed from Strong Hall will return, along with other religious holiday symbols like the Jewish menorah. The Christmas tree was removed following a complaint by a Jewish faculty member who said that the tree demonstrated a "lack of sensitivity" to those of other religions. 

But according to Lorene Stone, Dean of the MSU College of Humanities and Public Affairs, Jewish faculty members were invited to put up a menorah but declined out of fear that it would be stolen. Apparently, such fears have been substantially put to rest as the Christmas tree will now be joined by other religious holiday symbols, presumably including the menorah. For the original story from KSDK News Channel 5 in St. Louis, go here.

While there is much to be said for the argument that a government of many different peoples should not show undue bias in favor of a particular faith, there is another good argument to be made here: namely, that healthy religions which contribute to society are to be thanked, not shunned, by the state. Whether that takes the form of tax-exempt status or as small a gesture as giving such faiths honor in a public park or state university's student union, the state has many good reasons to befriend those organizations that help teach their adherents respect for the law and for their neighbors.

This is not aiding any particular faith's proselytizing efforts. Rather, it is honoring those who contribute to American society, much as one might have a "4-H" recognition day or a salute to the Girl Scouts. Given the number of problems faced internally by our country today, recognizing and respecting the contributions of any positive organization that helps our society seems not only wise but appropriate.

A new thread for some has emerged in this well-resolved discussion at Missouri State, a concern brought up by David Kaufman, a philosophy professor. Kaufman generously stated that he had no complaint with the Christmas tree but has had issues with the university scheduling major campus events during the most significant Jewish holidays. As a result, many Jewish students are unable to participate in these events.

Kaufman's point: MSU and other schools shouldn't just recognize one religion.

Good point! This is a cause for which Christian students can and should show solidarity with their Jewish friends on campuses across America. The college administrations may find this to be a minor challenge, but if they are really into diversity--and if Christian students are to be in the vanguard of religious freedom for all--then being more aware of key holidays for other religions should be kept uppermost in mind when scheduling major campus events. It's just common courtesy.

Let's hope the day comes when the secular powers that be can be convinced that religion, while a powder keg in the hands of misguided people, can be a life-giving balm for society in the right hands. Standing up for one another's religious freedom should enable us to see the common roots we share, even if we still disagree on major points. 

Having Christmas and Hanukkah symbols in public spaces across America at this time of the year gives the public two important reminders: first, that there remain neighbors in their own community that belong to the Christian and Jewish faiths and second, that we should be glad of their contributions to society.

Again, that's not force-feeding or endorsing anything: that's giving due recognition.

(Photo courtesy of KSDK)

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Great post and great thoughts to keep in mind not only during the Christmas season but year round!


Thanks Stephen. We all need to hear this over and over again. The enemy is not other religions but atheism. We who believe, need to stand in solidarity of each other. With all religion silenced, the ultimate authority and religion of the day becomes the state. The state then decides when and how we celebrate holidays according to its agenda. In North America that agenda supports the false god of consumerism. Let’s stand in support of each other. We all then become stronger in our journey from the physical towards the spiritual. Thanks be to God!

Jason Taylor

The type of atheists that object to Christmas trees(there are other types by the way-atheist is not a synonymn for ringwraith)are not "consumerists". They are more like Scrooge saying "I hate people".

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