Religion has a place in the public square

I am in disagreement with the remarks appearing in the Nov. 26 letter to the editor entitled “Religion Does Not Have A Place at Town Hall.” The commentary and concluding sentence implies that only the presence of a menorah, as opposed to a Christmas tree or other religious symbol, offends notions of separation of church and state in this instance.

To that point, the writer reasons that because Hanukkah is a sectarian Jewish holiday, a menorah has no place in front of town hall. By my interpretation, the writer’s message is that a Christmas tree at town hall is fine, but a menorah is not. I am not OK with that.

Indeed, it is a fact that a Christmas tree and a nativity scene are also symbols of a sectarian Christian holiday. While popular culture and commercial marketing have blurred that line, make no mistake that Christmas is not an American holiday; it is undoubtedly a Christian one.

Therefore, if the strict construction of separation of church and state that is emphasized by the writer is in order, so then, and by the same logic, all traditional displays of the season must also be suppressed.

No more Christmas tree lighting. No more Hanukkah menorah lighting. No more holiday adornments on the light posts on Main Street. No more Santa Claus on the back of the fire engine. No more holiday music at your child’s winter concert.

To that point, I strongly disagree with the writer. That is not the kind of town I want to live in. I know my Jackson neighbors, who represent a diverse palette of people from all walks of life, and I take comfort in the fact that Jackson is not such a town.

At a time when cultural and religious sensitivity/insensitivity seems to be the topic of discussion on the news and around dinner tables every day, it is more important than ever that government bodies, including municipalities like Jackson, whose citizenry is comprised of diverse and accepting people, aspire to stand as examples that all cultures and religions, and their differences, must be welcomed and, most importantly, respected.

In my opinion, such an aspiration is even more American than apple pie. This is not an issue of political correctness. It is an issue that is guided by our Constitution, our tradition, our way of life as Americans, and, of course, legal precedent.

It is impossible to ignore that religion has played a key role in the history and development of this country. The U.S. Supreme Court has acknowledged that fact, and the writer also acknowledges that fact in a commentary published in another local newspaper dated July 1, 2014, in which he also argues that the United States is a religion neutral nation.

Notwithstanding, religion neutrality should not be interpreted as a call for religion blindness. Just as it is OK for a police officer to wish someone a Merry Christmas or a Happy Hanukkah, it is perfectly acceptable for a municipality to do the same, by celebrating and displaying the traditional symbols of the holidays celebrated by its residents — whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim, etc.

I believe Jackson and its leadership is, and has been, fair and balanced in providing a forum for all religions to celebrate the season. That welcoming tradition must continue and it makes me proud to be a member of a diverse and accepting Jackson community.

Shaun I. Blick