Holiday Symbols Vie For Position

 For opinion professionals, for public chatterers, for "public intellectuals," there is no greater holiday gift than a good, loud, crazy creche controversy.
    Note how artfully Cohen the Columnist slipped in that "holiday" gift, as opposed to Hanukkah gift or Christmas gift or Atheist Ode to the Great Question Mark gift.
    In this age of kissy-face ecumenism, we take great care at this time of year to balance the Christmas-Hanukkah thing, leavened by sermons about our Judeo-Christian heritage, spiced with a bit of fervent shopping, all designed to convince confused children that Jesus is some kind of Presbyterian Jew who attended a Catholic church, where the Unitarian minister pondered the mysteries of the Anglican Koran.
    God may be angry and vengeful, but he also has a wicked sense of humor. Just about the time that we craft the perfect non-religious religious holiday season, God inspires a true believer to construct a four-story, multicolor, creche on public ground - and it all falls apart.
    You Christians get all Christian-like, the Jews demand a menorah the size of Rockefeller Center . . . and, then, there are the atheists, snickering in the background, cheering on the American Civil Liberties Union lawyers, who, because they are lawyers, are under the control of Satan.
    All of this is very good for opinion leaders who, if there were no creche debates, would be limited to talking about whether Hillary Clinton should ride a tractor in Iowa, to show off her warm, friendly side.
    But the clock was ticking this year; there was nary a creche debate to speak of in Connecticut. According to reliable sources, several opinion professionals said a little prayer to God, who, on short notice, brought forth onto the Earth the Connecticut Valley Atheists, to give us something Christmas-like to quarrel about.
    There it was, in early December, a billboard kind of a sign thing, in Rockville's Central Park, to acknowledge the "winter solstice," and, of course, to advertise the notion that the World Trade Center towers might still be standing, if not for religious insanity. "Imagine No Religion," the atheists communicated.
    Bravo, you crafty little atheist troublemakers. It was a creche practical joke in reverse. Instead of despoiling the public square with Jesus stuff, or competing Hanukkah stuff or nondenominational reindeer, the Godless Ones not only dumped on the Son of God at Christmas time, but also question whether Dad is a source for good.
    As of this writing, the powers-that-be in the Vernon-Rockville colossus have responded with two impressive Christmas trees, artfully placed to diminish the sight lines of the atheist sign. If Hanukkah hadn't been over, a 60-foot-tall menorah would have been recruited to hover over the Godless propaganda like the mighty hand of God.
    Bible scholars were quick to point out that the Word of the Lord had come down to Jonah at one point, saying, "Arise, go to Somerset, Mass., and proclaim against it, for their wickedness is come up before me - and then go to Vernon, Conn., and do the same thing."
    It was 1998 when the town of Somerset faced a legal challenge from atheists and a judge with a really good sense of the absurd. He ruled that the town "holiday" display was an unconstitutional ode to Christianity, which could be repaired with a hodgepodge of religious stuff.
    Like the miracle of the loaves and fishes, the Somerset town bosses erupted with an endless holiday feast: "Seasons Greetings" neon sign, a Christmas tree, a menorah, reindeer, Frosty the Snowman - and a sign extolling the virtues of religious freedom.
    There may well be lessons to be learned by Vernon from their brothers and sisters in Christ (oops) in Somerset. In what has come to be known in legal circles as the "two plastic reindeer rule," the U.S. Supreme Court, in one of its 858 rulings on Christmas creche stuff, suggested in 1982 that a holiday display with sufficient stuff not including Mary and Joseph and the kid and the shepherds might pass muster, because it would not be perceived to be an "endorsement" of Christianity.
    If next year, a great big old nondenominational plastic reindeer butts up against the atheists' sign in Rockville and it comes crumbling down like the walls of Jericho, that may well be what God and man intended.

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