[Update: In a brilliant move, Travis AFB is inviting the local press to come see the “holiday” display today. Officials also indicated the issue was being elevated, since, as noted below, Travis is far from the only military facility to have religious displays during Hanukkah and Christmas.]
Michael Weinstein, the single paid officer of his personally-founded charitable “foundation,” has threatened Travis Air Force Base with legal action.
Because they put up a nativity scene and a Menorah.
In case you hadn’t noticed, it is approaching Christmas and Hanukkah. It is traditional during this time of year for military bases around the world to light Christmas trees, have visits from Santa (he arrives by plane), erect nativities and Menorahs, and sponsor what is often known as a “holiday card lane.” This confluence of events is an acknowledgement of the celebrations in which a vast majority of military members — and American citizens — partake.
The issue of “holiday” trees has already been discussed. Though the legal letter fails to mention it, the nativity and Menorah at issue are part of the Holiday Card Lane at Travis AFB. Traditionally, Air Force bases allow units, individuals, and organizations to create “holiday cards,” often out of 4×8 sheets of plywood. There may or may not be other criteria in place, like whether or not the cards can have lights or need to be fastened down to the ground. These cards are lined up along an avenue of the base. Sometimes, they are judged in contests or inaugurated simultaneously with the tree-lighting (as were the ones at Travis).
The only thing Weinstein takes issue with, however, is the nativity and Menorah. Why? The letter from Jones Day, written by attorney Katherine Ritchey, interestingly never mentions Weinstein by name. It says Read more
Around the nation and around the world, US military bases are hosting tree lighting ceremonies as the Christmas celebration approaches.
Not unlike the controversy in Rhode Island, some bases choose to avoid the word “Christmas,” instead using the term “holiday tree” (even as they have Jewish Menorahs, as opposed to a holiday candelabrum, erected nearby). Some recent events Read more
In a somewhat long but interesting article first published in the Jewish Exponent and republished by the Army, 1LT Avi Behar, a 23-year-old Army Lieutenant, recalls a day in Afghanistan in which he had an epiphany about religion and relationships both in the US military and the Afghan Army.
Earlier in the day, with the help of an Afghan General, his unit helped a local get his truck, overloaded with his produce, unstuck from the side of the road. Later, he came back to base to celebrate Chanukah:
Upon returning that night…our battalion chaplain put together a Chanukah service. We had discussed the idea a few days prior, but I wasn’t expecting what I was about to experience. Read more
Despite the decision by some government organizations to have “holiday” trees, the National Christmas tree lit in the Nation’s capital each year remains precisely that — a Christmas tree. This year the US Coast Guard Band was the primary musical backdrop for the event; as is often tradition, the band stood for the Christmas prayer offered by the Rev. Darrell D. Morton. Some bowed their heads; some did not.
The President’s remarks included a call for prayer for the military: Read more
Marine Corps Base Quantico recently announced it will be lighting the base “holiday tree” next week.
No word yet on whether they will also have a “holiday candelabrum.”
As previously noted, there is no military policy on public holiday celebrations on military facilities, though they are fairly common. While some have generic “holiday” events, other bases have not obscured the celebratory purposes, including Scott AFB, Illinois, Peterson AFB, CO, and Nellis AFB in Nevada:
The traditional Nellis AFB Christmas Tree and Menorah Lighting ceremony will be Dec. 3, 5:30 p.m., at the Chapel.
It appears the Capitol Christmas tree also remains traditionally named.
For the record, the Menorah lighting will actually be late. While many people think Hanukkah and Christmas coincide, the Jewish celebration actually started on December 1st this year.
Merry Christmas…can we say that?
Both religious and secular news sources have repeatedly reported on the perceived “war on Christmas,” in which organizations (primarily retailers) have chosen to say (or not say) Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, or some other variation on the theme. For retailers, it is a business decision, whether good or bad, in which they attempt to appease one group of consumers or another. What they do probably has an impact on their sales figures, but influences little else.
Another question revolves around what is permissible for government officials. Lawsuits and controversy have erupted over Christmas (or “holiday”) displays (like in Wisconsin). Even President Bush has been taken to task for the White House Christmas Cards that don’t mention Christmas, but do contain Old Testament Bible verses that reference the Messianic prophecy. Military Christians, then, have a confusing cornucopia of examples to look at when trying to decide what is appropriate during the Christmas season.
Is there a right answer? What can military Christians do or say? Read more