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"Christmas tree 'Controversy is ridiculous'"

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

'Controversy is ridiculous' 
By Tom Fontaine
The Beaver County (PA) Times

A Transportation Security Administration agent was standing next to a large
Christmas - er, holiday - tree on Pittsburgh International Airport's
ticketing level Monday when a co-worker heading down a nearby escalator
hollered over to him: "What, are you guarding the tree?"

They both laughed, but the removal of nine Christmas trees from
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport early Saturday has launched the latest
battle in what some refer to as an ongoing "war on Christmas."

The trees at the Sea-Tac airport were taken down after a rabbi asked to have
an 8-foot-tall menorah placed next to the airport's largest Christmas tree.
Fearing that displaying the menorah would require the airport to add extra
symbols for other religions and cultures, Sea-Tac officials decided to
remove the trees instead. 

Ironically, a Sea-Tac spokeswoman said the airport chose to box up the trees
because it "didn't want to be exclusive."

The two 20-foot Christmas trees at Pittsburgh International Airport, both of
which are adorned with decorations made by area elementary students, aren't
going anywhere.

"We haven't received any complaints about them this year, or in the entire
(six years) I've been here," said JoAnn Jenny, spokeswoman for the airport
authority, noting the airport refers to the trees as "holiday," not
Christmas, trees.

On Monday, passengers seemed largely oblivious to the trees. Most prattled
on their cell phones or double-checked their boarding passes as they walked
by the trees without breaking stride or looking up at them.

Nancy Lee, of Beaver, said the trees didn't offend her.

"I think the whole controversy is ridiculous. It wouldn't matter to me if
they included decorations from other religions - they're all so festive. But
it seems like some people would rather have everyone be atheists," Lee said
prior to boarding a flight to Palm Springs, Calif.

"I wonder what's going to happen to the Easter Bunny, or even Frosty the
Snowman. Some people probably want to put a heat lamp on him," Lee said and

Jenny said the airport has an open policy on decorations. 

Each of the airlines is allowed to decorate its ticketing areas in a way it
sees fit. All but one of them - Northwest Airlines - was adorned with some
sort of holiday or winter decorations Monday afternoon, and a couple had
signs reading "Merry Christmas."

Jenny said an area rabbi has placed menorahs beside the airport's Christmas
trees for the last couple of years. This year, the menorahs will go up on
Friday, the day before Hanukkah begins.

No other religions, cultures or ethnic groups have requested space for
decorations, she said.

Christmas decorations have generated debate in Beaver County over the last
couple of years.

Last year, county officials decided not to put up several inflatable holiday
figures - including Frosty - on Beaver County Courthouse grounds after a
Raccoon Township couple asked to place a creche on county property. Beaver
County Judge Deborah Kunselman, then county solicitor, said the county
didn't want its property to be cluttered with any displays, religious or

The Raccoon couple, Mike and Deborah Sturm, turned to Beaver officials and,
for the last two years, they have been granted permission to place the
creche in a borough park diagonally across Third Street from the courthouse
- though the move has made some officials uneasy.

"No one is anti-Christmas decorations, but I am concerned that if you say
yes to something, you'll have to say yes to everything. Fortunately, we
haven't been approached by the KKK (Ku Klux Klan)," Councilman Marlin Erin

"Lawmakers today have a fundamental misunderstanding about the freedom of
speech. The First Amendment says the government shall make no law respecting
the establishment of religion or the practice thereof. When you say no
religion on public grounds, you are, in fact, restricting that," Mike Strum,
56, said, adding he will place the creche in the Beaver park on Saturday.

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