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Easter Bunny Gets Booted in Minnesota

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In what will surely be touted as yet another example of the “war” on religion, Easter decorations in the St. Paul, Minnesota, city council offices were taken down after questions were raised about whether it was appropriate to recognize the Christian holiday.

A toy rabbit decorating the entrance of the St. Paul City Council offices went hop-hop-hoppin’ on down the bunny trail Wednesday after the city’s human rights director said non-Christians might be offended by it.

The decorations — including the stuffed rabbit, Easter eggs and a handcrafted sign saying “Happy Easter,” but nothing depicting the biblical account of Christ’s death and resurrection — were put up this week in the office of the City Council by a council secretary.

Now before people get totally bent out of shape, let’s point out that nobody complained; the city’s human rights director simply raised the question of the display’s appropriateness, and they decided it was not. This is a case of trying to be sensitive to other people’s beliefs, not caving to pressure or litigation.

We should also acknowledge two other things:

1. This is not a constitutional issue. A bunny and a “Happy Easter” sign put up by a municipal worker without city money or approval doesn’t really amount to establishment of religion.

2. The sensitivity issue was overblown, inasmuch as there was expressed concern that a non-Christian might be “offended” by the display. I’m sure someone could get offended by it, but I don’t think such a person would meet the “reasonable person” standard so common in law.

All that said, taking down the display was the right thing to do. It’s not a matter of law; it’s a matter of simple human courtesy.

Religion is a part of society. It has no more and no fewer rights than any other form of expression. A municipal worker who is allowed to put up a “Go Vikings!” sign in their cubicle is equally allowed to put up a “Jesus Saves” sign.

But religion is unique when it comes to perceived government sponsorship. City Hall can hang a 50-foot banner out front saying “Go Vikings!”; they would be way out of line to hang a similar banner saying “Jesus saves.”

Between those clear examples lies a vast gray area, where what is appropriate is open to debate, subject to context and personal preference.

Government has a right to acknowledge religion’s role in society. And there’s no real problem with marking religious holidays, as they are part of society, too. The problem comes when government only acknowledges a single religion, or gives clear preference to a single religion, or when they are driven by religious motivations and not a more neutral one.

In the St. Paul case, I highly doubt that non-Christian holidays get the same routine celebratory treatment that Christian holidays do. To some extent that reflects the fact that we are still a majority Christian country; but where government is involved, caution and sensitivity are called for. Not for fear of offending non-Christians, but so as to make clear that we are a government for all faiths, not just one.

Governmental units should commemorate all major holidays of major faiths, or none of them, or come up with a religion-neutral criteria for choosing. Acknowledge religious contributions to society for their contributions, not their religion.

In our increasingly multireligious society, anything else is simply rude. The St. Paul display was absolutely minor; it was unlikely to offend anyone. But the principles that led to the decision to take it down were correct.

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About Sean Aqui

  • http://pewview.mu.nu Warren

    Problem is that the Easter Bunny has nothing to do with the religious celebration of Easter. It’s like Santa Claus — a commercial face that people put on a religious holiday so they can celebrate it without being religious.

    I’m not one of the extremists who think that the Easter Bunny is part of a grand Satanic conspiracy to undermine the true meaning of Easter, but I DO think it’s stupid to think it has anything to do with Christ’s resurrection. I don’t see anybody really getting upset about this one — we can have our celebration just fine if the bunny vanishes altogether.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Sean,

    I hadn’t noticed this article until EO highlighted it as part of the Holy Week Passover combo on Blog Critics.

    It’s a pleasure to read someone writing with the courtesy and good sense of a Minnesotan. I’m glad I left Minnesota, but I do miss the intgelligent and balanced way people attempt to look at things there.

    Of course, I’m not writing with total objectivity. My wife was born and raised in St. Paul.

    Happy Easter

  • http://midtopia.blogspot.com Sean Aqui

    Ruvy,

    Thanks! I’m a Wisconsinite by birth, but I adopted Minnesota as my home state when I went off to college. I like to think that the mindset just soaks in after a few years.

    And I agree that Minnesota produces some mighty fine women; my wife grew up in Maple Grove.

  • Nancy

    ‘Tis the land of Moose & Squirrel, who were always unfailingly polite, even in the face of rudies such as Boris Badanov & Fearless Leader. In fact, I’ve never met a rude or hostile Minnesotan; they’re so nice, one could actually confuse them with Canadians, eh? Long live Minnesota (-ians)!

  • http://adamantsun.blogspot.com SteveS

    But religion is unique when it comes to perceived government sponsorship. City Hall can hang a 50-foot banner out front saying “Go Vikings!”; they would be way out of line to hang a similar banner saying “Jesus saves.”

    In my opinion, one is a game, and one is a form of prostelyzing. They would be more analogous if the sign said ‘Go Jesus!’.

    And to me, that makes the sign different and less offensive than one that says Jesus Saves.