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SEASONAL SECULARISM IN PLANO By William Murchison Print E-mail
by Scott Bennett    Tue, Dec 13, 2005, 01:28 AM

Just a year ago, a nine-year-old Plano student had the temerity to show up at school with religious (i.e., Christian) messages inside the goodie bags he had intended for a "Winter Break" party. Whereby hangs a tale of plain old nuttiness such as you wouldn't think to encounter in the Lone Star State . Except that in Plano you seem to, and surely in other places as well.

Our poor third grader was pounced upon by his school's constituted authorities, who quickly set him straight on his constitutional trespass. He he had introduced a religious message -- something about the birth of someone named Jesus -- into the proudly secular environment of Plano public schools. Some innocent might get the idea Plano public schools actually approved of whoever this Jesus person was!

A bleak midwinter was getting bleaker from the standpoint of those unable to see why, in the Christmas season, Christmas' founder should have become radioactive. Well, lo, the pompous and prissy got their comeuppance, courtesy of a federal judge whose help two public interest law firms -- the Liberty Legal Institute and the Alliance Defense Fund -- had sought in behalf of the boy's duly outraged parents. U. S. Dist. Judge Paul Brown of the Eastern District temporarily restrained Plano from vetting student goodie bags in search of, shudder, religious messages. The lawsuit (Morgan, et al, vs. Plano Independent School District) remains active. The Liberty Legal Institute refers to it as "an ongoing case that has the potential of cementing many of the religious freedoms for our children that have taken decades to restore."

There's enough cementing to do to keep the legal profession occupied for several decades. We're reminded every Christmas just how far some of our cultural patriarchs have departed from normal understandings of the relationship between church and state "Normal" meaning, how can it be said that the singing of Christmas carols on, yes, public school property constitutes a menace to religious liberty when the truth is, seeing innocent religious acknowledgment as a menace undemines not only religious liberty but the delicately poised arrangements whereby the founding fathers sought to head off just the kind of controvery in which Plano engages.

Once upon a time, Plano , north of Dallas , was a normal Texan community of about 5,000 souls. Then the tides of population growth engulfed it from the south. Predominantly white and nominally (at least) Christian, modern Plano suffers from nicely-nicely-ism of the most suffocating and noxious kind. The city's excellent school system suffers accordingly. The idea is that Christmas can be Christmas outside the schools but not inside -- as if the schools were some cordon sanitaire between religion and irreligion.

No more Christmas holidays there! Now it's Winter Break:a frosty-sounding notion indeed. None of Christmas' traditional, pan-theological warmth glows from such a designation. A year ago, school officials patrolled the cordon sanitaire to make sure no red and green implements or party favors found their way to the Winter Break Party. Please, please -- white only! (Like snow, y'know?)

Plano is big on multiculturalism. "We have to be careful," one of its attorneys said last year, that Hindu, Jewish, and Islamic students "don't have their rights trampled on." By -- for instance -- a sudden glimpse of red and green.

Currently, Plano ISD's website features winning posters in the Holiday Art Contest, meant to foster "harmony, respect, tolerance, acceptance, and understanding among or between different racial, cultural, ethnic, and/or religious groups." Winners are selected by the district's Multi-Ethnic Committee. (I'm not making this up.)

The winning entry: Ninth grader Karen Chen's poster with a pair of ethnically ambiguous hands holding a snowflake. Close behind: 17 students, all very diverse, standing at the rim of the earth; a snowman and the inscription, "The Gift of Friendship"; a pair of purple mittens holding a round globe and the inscription, "Greetings [certainly not the Christmas kind of greetings] 2005." Ummm, very stirring -- the way this stuff always is.

Not to disparage the contest winners, or even those who preside over the thing, but this is such pallid stuff -- the hold-hands-and-acknowledge-each-other stuff -- that it's a wonder Plano doesn't keel over collectively from boredom and stupefaction.

Ah, and then there's the really feel-good project du jour. The web site informs us, titillatingly, that students and staff are "busy this holiday season [has no one ever informed the administration that "holiday" means "holy day"?] planning, shopping, collecting, and delivering thousands of gifts to needy North Texas families."

Well, yes, fine. But why? Just because? Or out of solidarity with the ancient Christian tradition of gift-giving and ministry to the poor in honor of Jesus Christ's birth? The website fails to inform us. We can't tell, accordingly, whether this gift-giving thing, up Plano way, is the new efflorescence of the philanthropic spirit or whether it's all pretense. Keeping up secular traditions, it might occur to the Plano ISD, if its let a non-secular thought enter their heads, is a harder thing altogether than continuing in the remembrance, year in and year out, of, shall we say, a Higher Call.

Seasonal secularism -- bah, humbug!

Have yourself, instead, whether the Plano ISD ap proves or not, a merry little Christmas.

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