Thursday, December 20, 2007

Pastafarians, Wiccans, Others Banned from Green Bay Pack

Appearing at The Jaundiced Eye, the Independent Bloggers' Alliance, and My Left Wing.

Pastafarians may not participate in a holiday display in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Mayor Jim Schmitt described the proposal as "silly." He declared a moratorium on additional displays after a Wiccan wreath displayed with the nativity scene was vandalized.

After police announced Monday someone stole and damaged a Wiccan display overnight that had been placed on the roof Friday, Schmitt ordered that it wouldn't be replaced and that no other displays would be permitted until the City Council debates the issue tonight.

Schmitt's declaration means that the nativity scene, placed by Council President Chad Fradette last Tuesday, is the only holiday display over City Hall's northwest entrance.

Schmitt said he and City Attorney Allison Swanson developed proposed guidelines governing the size and style of future religious displays. His list limits such displays to December and attempts to limit such displays to legitimate religious symbolism.

In fairness, the mayor may be well within his rights to put a stopper on the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Seinfeldian Festivus (for the rest of us). But there are serious constitutional questions when the only remaining display is a Christian one.

"Who is to say what is a legitimate religious institution?" said Maureen Manion, a retired St. Norbert College professor of political science, with a specialty in constitutional law. "Is there a check-off list? That's shaky constitutional ground, as far as I'm concerned."

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is purposely ambiguous in that it tries to protect religious practices without establishing a religion, and "the courts have always bent over backward to not define religions," Manion said. "I think that's what the framers (of the constitution) were trying to protect — not having a sanctioned church.

. . .

Limiting displays to December is clearly an attempt to put Christian ideals first, which ignores minority religions that may have important holidays at different times of the year, said Terri Johnson, a professor of American government and politics at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

"The Bill of Rights was about protecting minority rights," she said. "Freedom of speech, of religion, all of those weren't to protect the majority, they were to protect the minority."

Faced with a law suit, after its Tuesday night vote to restrict the display, the city is scrambling to cover its bases.

Schmitt on Wednesday directed city maintenance workers to move a Christmas tree and wire reindeer next to the nativity display.

True, the christmas tree is one of the many vestigial pagan symbols that remain in the Christmas tradition. I doubt that it sufficiently replaces the damaged pentacle.

Schmitt said Monday he didn't realize until that day that the wreath and pentacle involved witchcraft. Wicca is a nature-based religion based on respect for the earth, nature and the cycle of the seasons, but Schmitt said he believed it was wrong to allow a Wiccan display next to the nativity scene.

"Wrong" to allow a Wiccan symbol near a Christian one... Well then, I guess we can be pretty sure that no bias went into his decision to restrict all but the nativity scene.

Not a fan of nativity scenes, myself. Although every year I play with the idea of putting up a display of the newborn Mithras in his cave, surrounded by the magi and shepherds, just to see if anyone notices the difference. I doubt Mayor Schmitt would catch on. After listening to this interview on NPR, I'm not sure he's ever heard of any religions other than Christianity. Certainly, he has never been touched by the noodly appendage. For my part:

I Want To Believe