Wednesday, December 07, 2005

... of Christmas time freedom of speech.

The Memphis Library has received some attention recently in part because of Bill O'Reilly picking up the story. The Bartlett Public Library is upset about a nativity scene that was placed in a public display area. The woman who put up the display is even more upset. She believes that she should be able to have the baby Jesus in a manger to advertise a Christmas show because Christmas is about Jesus. In the story she described this to having Graceland without Elvis. She made a better analogy on Bill O'Reilly's show last night, where she likened it to the Bill O'Reilly Show having another host every day.

Now I do not hold a lot of stock on Mr. O'Reilly's opinions (this piece was part of his war on Christmas agenda), but I was concerned about the library's decision. Everyone who walked by who has been around Christianity (which is most) are aware of what the manger symbolizes whether or not there is a physical plastic baby in the manger. I am also sure that the display identified who put it there, showing that the group involved is a church. So if the intent of the decision was to be non-partisan by omission of explicit religious details, I cannot see how keeping the shell of the display makes sense. Either you allow Jesus or you do not.

I can also understand the library's concern that they do not want to seem like they are leaning more towards one religion over another. Some patrons may feel persecuted by Christianity in general, or fundamental Christians in particular. And to have the baby Jesus directly outside the book stacks might be unnerving for them. This is a particularly hard case.

A win/win scenario would include other groups being able to put forth their religious activities on display whether it be a Yule log next to a pentegram, a menorah, or some other appropriate symbology. That probably is not going to happen.

The New York Library Association has a "Self-Censorship Checklist." One of the questions says, "[Have you] Prohibited use of your meeting room or bulletin board to groups whose views you disagreed with?" If the answer is yes then it says "it's time to review your intellectual freedom practices!" Since the library did not specifically prohibit the display, just pieces of it, the question then becomes how much of Jesus' manger can they take away and still have it be a Christmas manger?

No comments: