Another Nativity scene got the bum’s rush during the Christmas season. This one was in my neck of the woods — Canonsburg, Pa., birthplace of Perry Como.
For just about three decades the Knights of Columbus had set up a Nativity scene outside the borough building. This year, a person wrote in to complain that the manger scene was “disrespectful” to the borough’s non-Christian community.
There was a time when we generally accepted that living in a free society meant that it was a good idea to accept our communal customs. We used to have this idea of accommodation. But those days are long gone. Accommodation to one group is now defined as “disrespectful” to another.
So that’s the end of the Nativity scene. The Knights moved it to the front of a nearby private business, about 40 yards away. When he was inundated with calls complaining about Mary and Joseph’s eviction, the borough manager said he had no choice. He said he would even pay to erect a sign on the manger’s previous spot: “Nativity Scene Ahead.”
This probably raises another issue for the court’s to wrestle with: Does giving directions on public property to a faith-based display constitute government endorsement of religion?
If that seems silly, remember that the Supreme Court in its wisdom spent a lot of time trying to determine if a Christmas tree was a religious or secular symbol. (It ruled it is not. Except when it is. Go figure.)
The stereotype of the censor in our culture is of a prudish maiden aunt trying to ban dirty books from the library. It just ain’t so. Today’s censors are the Thought Police who consider themselves smarter atheists than the believing rubes. They want to impose their values by banning everyone else’s values.
Most of the outright banning we see today is the purge of faith-based symbols and speech from public arena. But it’s not just during the Christmas season.
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., had to get out of the ministry of placing adoptions last year because the Thought Police would not allow a religious exemption to its same-sex marriage amendment that required them to place adoptions with gay couples and provide health care benefits to same-sex employees.
Nobody seemed to be worried if that was “disrespectful” to Catholic beliefs. As Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington explained to the Washington Post, the Church has always been required when working with civil authorities to meet standards of service in its social ministry. In the past, “the question always was: ‘Did you serve everyone?’ And the answer was yes,” Cardinal Wuerl told the newspaper. Now a litmus test on religious beliefs is imposed. To serve the poor, Catholic Charities was being told that it must change its beliefs on marriage.
A manger scene is “disrespectful” to a member of the community and gets the heave-ho. The Catholic Church serves people in need, but the Thought Police would rather have that ministry banned than tolerate the Church’s belief expressed publicly, or lived privately for that matter.
Canonsburg has a little public display recognizing old Perry Como. When the crèche controversy blew up a reader wrote on the local newspaper’s website: “I find Perry Como offensive. Please remove his statue.” There’s a guy you’ve got to respect.
[Author’s note: A solution has been reached in the great Canonsburg crèche controversy. They are moving the Nativity scene back to its original location on public property, but surrounding it with Santa, elves and candy canes to pass constitutional muster.]
Robert Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.