December 23, 2006

Picking a fight for the sake of a fight

Posted in Musings, News, Politics, Religion at 3:59 pm by The Lizard Queen

I just saw this article on Yahoo: Man sets self aflame in Calif. protest. He was protesting the fact that the Kern High School District (located in Kern County, CA–more about that at the very end of this post) voted to change the names of their winter and spring breaks to Christmas break and Easter break, respectively. While I may disagree with the protester’s methods, I agree that the change is objectionable, not because I have anything against the terms “Christmas” and “Easter” in and of themselves, but because of what seems to be the spirit behind these changes. The full story on the changes can be found here; I wanted to take a few minutes to respond to excerpts from the article.

Mettler and Vegas [two of the five district trustees voting on the issue] said they voted for the name change to uphold American tradition.

“Christmas is a federal holiday,” Mettler said. “It can certainly be recognized at the Kern High School District level.”

Fair enough. But I suspect that New Year’s Day, which is also a federal holiday, also occurs during KHSD’s break-formerly-known-as-winter. So why not call it “New Year’s break”? Should summer break become “Independence break”? (Ooh, that even gives you a nice double entendre…) On a different note, why not uphold the American tradition of religious tolerance and keep the names neutral? (I imagine that if they were actually posed that question, they would start in on the whole “the Founding Fathers were Christian” argument, which is, of course, a can of worms unto itself…)

Batey [another trustee] said he voted in favor of the change for many reasons including because he believes it has wide community support.

Okay; how, then, do you explain the following?

The vote followed discussion from trustees and heated comments from more than a dozen community members. Most, including Christians, Jews and people of other faiths, spoke out against the name change.

“There are so many other religious and ethnic groups in Kern County,” said Stockdale parent Devinder Singh Bains. “Other religions are just as important.”

Temple Beth El Rabbi Cheryl Rosenstein was one of several local Jewish community leaders who spoke. She also submitted a letter to board members before the meeting signed by her and more than 10 other local religious leaders, including the leaders of several Methodist churches, Congregation B’Nai Jacob and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Kern County, among others.

Doesn’t quite sound like wide community support to me…

Heinrichs [the last of the trustees to vote in favor of the change] said he was torn on the issue and hesitated before voting. He said he ultimately voted in favor of the change so the community could move on to other educational issues.

“It is a reasonable accommodation of tradition and less distracting for students in the long term,” Heinrichs said after the vote.

Perhaps it’s none of my business, but it does indeed seem to me that the board ought to be focused on educational issues. Also, how in the world is changing the names of the breaks going to be “less distracting for students”? Was there really a problem with students staring off into space during Algebra because they were pondering the phase “winter break”? It seems like this issue is a distraction itself, a distraction from more important issues.

“I just disagree that Christmas and Easter are irrelevant traditions,” Vegas said. He also responded to one audience member’s claim that some board members were only in favor of the name change in order to win future votes.

I can’t speak to board members’ political aims, but I can say that I firmly believe that no one–or at least very few people–would argue that Christmas and Easter are irrelevant. When we want breaks to be referred to by their season instead of a Christian holiday that falls within the break, or when we choose to say “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas,” the intent is not to denigrate Christian holidays; we simply recognize that not everyone celebrates the same holidays. I genuinely fail to understand how ostensibly Christian politicos can’t seem to put themselves in others’ shoes. How would they feel if I told them to have a blessed Winter Solstice, or wanted “spring break” changed to “Passover break”? The former would probably cause confusion, perhaps irritation (“Do I look like a hippy moon-worshipper?”); the latter would likely infuriate them.

However, in real life, no one is trying to suppress Christians. There is no “War on Christmas.” It’s just a matter of non-Christians asking not to be marginalized. I found this case particularly interesting (and disheartening) because it is not a matter of wanting merely to retain the terms “Christmas break” and “Easter break,” a sentiment with which I still wouldn’t agree but for which the aforementioned arguments would work somewhat better–it’s a matter of people taking neutral, unoffensive terms and replacing them with Christian-only terms. They’re picking a fight, and they’re doing it more for the sake of having that fight than for any other reason.

Incidentally, Kern County was where much of The Grapes of Wrath took place, and where that book was banned soon after its publication. Remind me not to move there…



  1. So if they are renaming “spring break” to “Easter break,” does that mean that they’ll move the break dates every year so that Easter is included? I wonder if they already did this?

  2. If KHSD is anything like the SoCal school district I spent 12 years in, then they already did that. Spring break was always the week before (or maybe the week after) Easter.

  3. […] to be marginalized, and I don’t think anyone deserves that treatment. This has come up in one of my earlier posts: there is no “War on Christmas” or “War on Christianity.” All that’s […]

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