“No Menorah For You”

Dec 032006
Authors: Drew Haugen

Things are going a little tough for Rabbi Yerachmiel Gorelik right now, and I don’t blame him if he is a little frustrated.

An advocate for the display of menorahs and other holiday symbols on public property in Fort Collins, Gorelik’s request for the display of a menorah was denied last week when the Downtown Development Authority announced they would only allow secular symbols, including the Christmas tree, in unattended holiday displays in Old Town Square plaza.

The decision from the DDA, the public organization that owns and operates Old Town Square plaza, is the most recent announcement from a number of Fort Collins organizations that plan to only allow secular symbols for their holiday displays this year.

Following suit, the Fort Collins City Council said last Thursday that the Christmas tree displayed at Fort Collins City Hall is not an endorsement of Christmas, and that the Christmas tree and Santa Claus are not religious symbols.

“The DDA is promoting Christmas, not Hanukkah, not anything else,” Gorelik told The Coloradoan last week.

“We’re not asking for something unusual,” Gorelik said. “We’re not asking for a kangaroo on display.”

And when you look at the evidence, Gorelik makes a good point.

A 1989 U.S. Supreme Court decision classifies Christmas trees and menorahs as secular symbols in some displays, and a 2001 U.S. Appeals Court decision allows governments to decide what symbols they will include in their holiday displays.

So as far as legal precedent is concerned, the playing field should be level; the Supreme Court says that Christmas trees and menorahs are both secular.

What it comes down to is the discretion of the local lawmakers, like city councilman Kurt Kastein who told the Collegian: “I like Christmas. I like the city recognizing that it is Christmastime, and the vast majority of citizens in Fort Collins would agree and celebrate Christmas. And the best way for us to do that is to display a Christmas tree.”

But in catering to the “vast majority” of Fort Collins citizenry in holiday displays, lawmakers like Kastein do a disservice to the entire Fort Collins community.

Of course, the Christmas decorations should be displayed, but inclusion of additional holiday symbols such as the Menorah would reinforce the message that we are, indeed, a community.

The Constitution of the United States lays the foundation for a pluralistic society; a society in which a variety of ideas, beliefs, and faiths are allowed to flourish unhindered.

The exclusion of some symbols such as the menorah, while including other, more popular symbols, reaffirms the idea that the religious minority populations are not as important.

When the issue came up for the Fort Collins City Council in July, Mayor Doug Hutchinson was the only council member interested in including more symbols, calling the Council’s decision a “step backward.”

Fort Collins boasts a thriving Jewish community and a variety of faiths that range from Buddhism to Orthodox Christianity.

The goal of local lawmakers should be to respond to the Fort Collins community as a whole, and the best way to do that is to embrace the symbolic expressions of a variety of faiths in public areas.

Even if that means the inclusion of a variety of religious symbols, the leadership of Fort Collins would be embracing the diversity of the community rather than picking and choosing “secular” symbols for the majority of Fort Collins residents.

Drew Haugen is a senior international studies major. His column appears Mondays in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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