THE JEWISH NEWS
This Week's Top Stories
(A Not So) Silent Night
A flap in Birmingham over the playing of Christmas music.
DAVID ZEMAN STAFF WRITER
f it weren't for a owned loudspeaker system in a case from Chicago concerning
grinch-like U.S. Con- downtown Birmingham. Holi- the use of holiday decorations
stitution, Christian re- day songs mentioning Jesus and religious music at Chica-
ligious songs would fill Christ or containing heavily go's O'Hare International Air-
the air in Birmingham Christian lyrics were dropped port.
at Christmas, a city of- following complaints by some
The court in that case al-
ficial said at a recent shoppers.
lowed the Christmas trees,
"Don't blame the city," com- wreaths and garlands to re-
"I think I can speak mission members told the au- main as secular expressions of
for this commission in dience Monday, "blame the the Christmas holiday season.
saying that if we had First Amendment," which pro- But the court nixed the playing
our way, we would be playing hibits governments from using of religious holiday music on
this music," Mayor Pro-Tem public funds to play music with First Amendment grounds.
Mike Wooley remarked, with- religious lyrics.
At Monday's hearing, Birm-
out contradiction, at a some-
Still, audience members kept ingham officials noted the city
times cantankerous public commissioners on the defen- had gone to court to preserve
sive, even after City Attorney Christian displays in the past,
Several area residents at- Timothy Currier cited federal and had lost.
tended the hearing to protest court rulings backing the city's
In the mid-1980s, Birming-
the removal last month of overt- position.
ham fought unsuccessfully to
ly religious songs from a city-
Mr. Currier specifically cited display a creche on city proper-
ty. The case went to the U.S.
Supreme Court, which declined
to hear the city's appeal.
"It was a very expensive,
time-consuming issue for the
city," Mayor Eleanor Siewert
"And they (the Supreme
Court) didn't even listen,"
grumbled City Commissioner
Dante Lanzetta. Mr. Lanzetta
noted that the creche litigation
cost Birmingham residents
nearly $100,000 in legal fees, a
debacle he said the city should
not revisit on the music issue.
"Your fight is with the
Supreme Court of the United
States," Mr. Lanzetta told the
But, to many in the audience,
the banning of religious songs
was an act of blatant discrimi-
nation against Christians Most
were quick to add they would
Christian or oth-
Glenn Jahnke of Bloomfield
trein of Astm
Hills compared the action to the
rder priority for us," he said. _ elry and Arthur c
kind of religious discrimination
"We're dealing with some- Horn of Plenty, who are:both
practiced by Adolph Hitler.
thing that is offensive to Jews Jewish, were the most enthu-
and:to others who don't follow siastic supporters of sprucing
"Are we going in the same di-
the Christian religion and up downtown Birmingham
rection of religious persecu-
don't celebrate Christmas. It with Christmas holiday deco-
tion?" he asked.
is an unnecessary intrusion." rations.
"What's wrong with a little
Gail Gotthelf, on the other
"I think people overreact
joy to the world, peace on earth
hand, said the flap is much and didn't have all the facts,"
and goodwill towards men?" he
ado about nothing. Her "no big she said. CI
said. "Let's not bow to the pres-
sure of a small minority."
A new exhibit of Jewish
ildren's literature has lullabies,
n "olive-skinned lad"
and even space aliens.
Indeed, several speakers
picked up on that last theme,
asking city officials why the
complaints of a few about the
religious music should hold
sway over the feelings of the
majority, who, they contend,
are in favor of the songs.
"A few phone calls?" Gregg
Oehlke of Bloomfield Hills
asked incredulously. "Who is
really pushing the envelope
Mayor Siewert shot back: "It
doesn't matter how many peo-
ple called. We never should
have played the music in the
Mr. Currier, the city attor-
ney, agreed, saying the Consti-
tution is designed to protect
individuals against the tyran-
ny of the majority.
Stuart Laidlaw of Birming-
ham was the only audience
member who spoke in support
of the decision. The playing of
religious music was "outra-
geous," he said afterward. "It
would be offensive to me be-
cause it disrespects other reli-
The music dispute began qui-
etly a few days after Thanks-
giving. The city's Principal
Shopping District, the govern-
ment-created agency that con-
trols the holiday music, dropped
a number of songs after an un-
specified number of complaints.
SILENT NIGHT page 10