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December 6, 2013

Question: Should Canada have a ‘national’ Christmas tree like in Washington, D.C.?

Below the surface of this seemingly innocuous question lurks some weighty issues. Among them are the rights of religious minorities, “reasonable accommodation” and the rights, we sometimes forget, of the majority.

I don’t see any harm in having a seasonal Christmas tree as a temporary national symbol. As a member of a minority religion, I am very grateful to be living in Canada, under a government that generally has a good record in protecting the rights of religious minorities.

The federal government has already passed several resolutions that have condemned the vicious, systematic persecution of the Baha’is in the Islamic Republic of Iran. I am grateful for their efforts. It understates the situation to say that religious minorities in the Middle and Far East are not given the same consideration.

A ghettoized world has become a thing of the past. Religious pluralism and interfaith relations promote the knowledge of religious traditions other than our own. This knowledge should include, not only the acceptance of the validity of all the world’s great religions, but also the recognition of the importance of their holy days. Good wishes, at least, will help to spread the joy of the season.

The various Christian confessions still find themselves in the majority in Canada. Why should any member of a religious minority begrudge the majority religion the celebration of its most important seasonal festival? Resentment of the lowly Christmas tree suggests an anti-religious, uncharitable attitude. It is good to recognize the joy others find in celebrating their religious festivals and to share in that joy.

In our time, political and theological correctness have gone wild. They have become not-so-subtle techniques of manipulation, agenda-setting, and control. Why, for example, should we change the name of a Christmas tree to a “holiday tree”? We all know where it comes from.

In such a diverse society as Canada, it would be impossible to adequately satisfy all the imagined slights and possible offences that some members of religious minorities might make to the existence of the “Christmas Tree.” “Reasonable accommodation” must be reasonable.  
-  Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen December 6, 2013
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