The Separation of Church and State

A museum in Wisconsin has an inclusive display of Christmas trees. This religious extremist is infuriated.

  Rob Boston

A display of Christmas trees at a train museum in Green Bay, Wisc., is causing a religious extremist to have conniptions because two of the trees are from groups he doesn’t like.

The National Railroad Museum annually sponsors a Festival of Trees. Local business, community groups and houses of worship are invited to display decorated trees. This year, 66 trees are on display. Among them are a tree from the Satanic Temple of Wisconsin, a nontheistic group that advocates for separation of church and state, and one from the Bay Area Council on Gender Diversity, which supports transgender individuals.

The Green Bay Press Gazette reported that most people in the area aren’t bothered by the inclusion of these trees. CEO Jacqueline Frank told the newspaper that the museum has received only a handful of calls about them.

Museum supports inclusion

Frank has made it clear that the museum supports inclusion. Local groups are free to put up trees, the only caveat being that the displays may not include messages that promote violence, sexual content or drug use.

“If we want to be an inclusive organization, we want to make sure that everybody feels comfortable,” Frank said. “Who am I to suddenly say … this thing that is your belief system and outside the mainstream is bad? I think there’s a lot to be said of being able to include everybody, to respect everyone and to provide dignity for everybody.”

That refreshing attitude has infuriated William Donohue, the cantankerous crank in chief at the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. Donohue says the inclusion of trees from the Satanic Temple and the Bay Area Council of Gender Diversity somehow expresses hostility toward Christianity.

Donohue: Wrong again

It doesn’t. Neither tree contains any messages ridiculing Christianity. (As it turns out, most of the trees in the display are secular. Only six were contributed by houses of worship.)

Donohue, citing the U.S. Supreme Court 1971 decision in Lemon v. Kurtzman, writes, “The issue is not discrimination – it is hostility to religion. And that is unconstitutional.”

He’s wrong on several counts. First off, the two trees are not hostile to religion. And even if they were, it wouldn’t matter: The limitation on hostility toward religion applies only to the government. While the National Train Museum has received some public funding, it’s a private entity and is allowed to engage in the speech of its choice. Finally, the Lemon decision was abandoned by the Supreme Court last year. Ironically, that came about because the high court has been stacked with justices who are hostile to church-state separation.

Three strikes and you’re out, Bill. Please leave the good people of Green Bay alone. They are not bothered by these trees, and they have no use for your attempts to draft them as combatants in another bogus “war on Christmas” culture clash.

Finally, Bill, let me be the first to wish you a Merry Christmas!

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