IT'S beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Here we go again with wearisome disputes over holiday displays. Court challenges or threatened lawsuits over what can or cannot be displayed in public places has become an onerous tradition of the season.
The latest interruption of peace and good will toward men brought down the Christmas trees, temporarily, at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. A rabbi had threatened legal action against the Port of Seattle if it didn't install an 8-foot-tall electric menorah at the airport along with the Christmas trees.
After Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky and his attorney sent the port a draft of a 24-page lawsuit, commissioners took immediate action to avoid being sued.
"From what we were made to understand," said Port Commissioner John Creighton, "if we didn't accede to the group's demands" they would file a lawsuit the next day. "At the time," he said, "it seemed to be a reasonable solution to remove the Christmas trees."
When news spread of the tree removal at the Seattle airport a nationwide furor erupted, with plenty of wrath for both port officials and various Jewish organizations.
Subsequently Rabbi Bogomilsky agreed not to file a lawsuit and the port put the trees back up. But the clash over traditional Christmas symbols left a bitter taste with many who are simply tired of the perennial protests every December.
While religion-based nativity scenes in public places may pose problems between church and state or provoke non-Christians to demand equal time with Christmas, other symbols of the season have become as secular as the holiday itself.
The Christmas tree is one of them. Other rabbis in the Seattle area insist the larger Jewish community supports separation of church and state and doesn't want menorahs publicly displayed because they're religious symbols of Hanukkah.
But some legal experts suggest compromise might have settled the matter amicably.
The Port of Seattle, they say, could have placed the menorah along with its Christmas trees in such a way that it would not have been an endorsement of religion.
Instead there were legal threats and a deluge of hate e-mail from exacerbated observers around the nation sick to death of all the seasonal foolishness.
Whatever religious overtones attach to the Christmas tree, it nevertheless is part of America's holiday season and a symbol of peace and good will embraced by people of many faiths.
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