Denying Religious Diversity

I consider ignorance to be an awful enemy, so I love books and universities. But I must admit there are times when I think our universities have become utterly brainless.

One area of deep confusion this past half-century has been the First Amendment.  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .”

Through the years the courts have expanded the word “Congress” to include far, far more than the Founders envisioned. It now means, according to our courts, any government from Congress on down to community councils.

Read the First Amendment very carefully, then see if you can find any logical connection between it and the following new policy at the University of Minnesota.

In the name of religious diversity and specifically at a recent event called “Respecting Religious Diversity,” the U of M has declared “religious iconography” inappropriate during the holiday season. (“Holiday,” you may recall, is simply a variant of the original word, “Holy Day.”)

And what constitutes religious iconography? The released document lists such Christian icons as Santa Claus, Christmas trees, the colors red and green, bows, angels,  nativity scenes, wrapped gifts, bells, doves, Star of Bethlehem.

Hanukkah reminders to be avoided are menorahs, the colors blue and white, dreidels,

Any foods or music associated with a holiday bust not appear on campus.

While the handout doesn’t reflect university, EOAA, or CFANS “official guidance,” Fox News (online Dec 15, 2017) reports that “Students were encouraged to report a bias incident of ‘inappropriate religious celebrations in your work or learning environment’ to the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action.” Great idea! Let’s turn each other in for any suspected signs of faith, either of the real Christian kind of Christmas or even the much more common secular Christmas. Imagine some foolish professor thinking Santa Clause and trees and wrapped gifts are religious icons.

Foolish thinking is clearly not the unique mark of the Far Right.

It is obvious that Christians have been fighting a losing battle to keep Christmas from becoming entirely secularized in our society. Jews have just barely begun daring to let their celebration of Hanukkah become widely known. These considerations do not seem to have influenced the EOAA, who are bent of keeping any tiny sign of holiday off campus.

The traditions of Christians and Jews have been a crucial dimension of the history and formation of our nation and its character. To pretend they are merely private matters, as has been common since the Enlightenment, is to practice revisionist history. It is inexcusable among presumably thoughtful people because it means denying reality.

So here are the questions: How does repressing all hints of religious diversity further religious diversity? And what possible logical track gets us from “Congress shall make no low respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” to the idea that wrapped gifts are inappropriate on campus?


About mthayes42

I am a retired pastor, interested in the Bible, cross-cultural ministries, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the current and past history of western civilization.
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