Thursday, March 23, 2006

The City That Laid An Egg (Again)

By Mitchell

Hmm. There’s some kind of Christian holiday coming up, isn’t there? (At least I think I read about it somewhere.) That means there must be controversy right around the corner as well, right? Ah yes, here it is. An article in this morning’s Star Tribune. “A cloth bunny and pastel-colored eggs with the words "Happy Easter" were taken down from the lobby of the St. Paul City Council offices Wednesday after someone questioned whether it was appropriate to note the Christian holiday.”

"It's not about being politically correct or anything else. Someone complained, everyone stopped and said, 'We ought not to do this,' " said Council President Kathy Lantry. "As government, we have a different responsibility about advancing the cause of religion, which we are not going to do."

Human Rights Director Tyrone Terrill (and yes, I’m mentioning his name because I think he should get a little publicity out of this) “sent Lantry an e-mail asking that the Easter decorations come down because they ‘could be offensive to non-Christians.’ “

Now, whether or not you agree with the opinion of the Director, you can at least see what his agenda is. (Is a bunny really a symbol of Easter? Let’s leave that aside for the moment.) And it raises what I think is a very intriguing question: can the absence of something, whether it be a symbol, a sign, or even a word – can its absence, as well as its presence, be construed as offensive?

Well, I suppose the answer has to be yes. After all, when Arizona refused to recognize Martin Luther King Day back in the early 90s, a lot of people were offended by its absence (the NFL refused to stage the Super Bowl there until the state changed its mind.) A lot of civil rights activists consider the absence of “diversity” to be offensive. For that matter, the diversity crowd considers the absense of multicultural recognition of events to be offensive. Let’s face it, there are plenty of examples that suggest the absence of recognition can be offensive to those for whom that recognition is meaningful.

We should ask for a moment why the word “Easter” is offensive in the first place. It’s just a word. It’s a Christian commemoration of an event. If you don’t happen to be a Christian, there’s nothing in the word that forces you to observe behavior that compromises your beliefs. It doesn’t require you to worship Christ. It doesn’t even require that you recognize the event. If there’s any group that might be offended by the concept of Easter, it’s the Jews – and yet I don’t see any mass evidence that most of them are bothered by it. Christians – real ones, that is – don’t hold the Jewish people responsible for the Crucifixion anymore. I really would have thought we’d gotten far beyond this point.

And in fact, I think we have. Kathy Lantry’s ridiculous statement notwithstanding, what we’re really seeing is PC gone amok once again, of another attempt to mandate secularism in public. (The article reminds us that St. Paul is the city that tried to remove red poinsettias from the courthouse a few years ago, replacing them with white ones on the grounds that the red had too much of a traditional religious significance. You’d think these people might, for a moment, stop to consider the very name of their city. Wait, maybe I shouldn’t bring that up.) The idea that a rabbit and plastic eggs advances a particular religious belief is absurd. You show me a proselytizing rabbit, and I’ll show you an advocate for larger families – that’s all.

Which brings us back to the original point of this essay: apparently the Human Rights Commissioner believes it’s permissible to offend Christians. What other conclusion can you draw? If a symbol can be offensive, the lack of the same symbol – due to an actual prohibition of its display – can be equally offensive. In fact, I’m offended by it, and so are some members of the City Council (Councilman Dave Thune calls the decision “a shame.”) Do any of us count? Apparently not as far as the Human Rights Director of the city of St. Paul is concerned.

And that, too, is offensive.

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