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'Tis the season; Anti-holiday hysteria hits again.

COLUMN: IN OUR OPINION

It's the season of peace, of giving, of goodwill toward all mankind. Unfortunately for Donna M. Pierce, it also is the season in which professional offense-takers, out of ignorance or spite or both, are poised to denounce any public expression of the spirit of the season as an unconstitutional endorsement of a religion.

So on Friday when the principal of the Samoset School in Leominster put up a "giving tree" that pupils could decorate with hats and mittens for distribution to needy families, she was barraged with complaints from parents and staffers who considered the tree an inappropriate holiday symbol.

Such complaints defy common sense and constitutional law.

For starters, the purpose of the "establishment clause" is to bar an official state religion, not to mandate unrelieved secularism or to expunge all religious symbols or references from public life.

For laypeople, the case law can seem confusing. A menorah or nativity scene erected at city hall would be barred if displayed alone, for example, but is acceptable if displayed with a variety of seasonal and religious symbols. A religious symbol in a public square is protected free speech if erected by private citizens, but not if installed by government.

Such complications do not figure in Leominster because a decorated evergreen tree, while associated with Christmas, is no more a Christian religious symbol than is a Yule log, a pinata or Santa Claus.

Especially at this time of year, Americans of all religious, ethnic and social stripes are mindful of their nation's cultural richness and traditional toleration of diversity - bedrock virtues enshrined in our national motto: E pluribus unum, "out of many, one."

That sentiment for all seasons, regrettably, is not shared by those who took such offense at the Samoset School giving tree.
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Title Annotation:EDITORIAL
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Dec 5, 2007
Words:297
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