The Durham, New Hampshire, Human Rights Commission has recommended that the town cease its annual Christmas tree lighting tradition on public land out of concern it promotes the Christian faith at the exclusion of others.
The commission was established by the town council for the purpose of eliminating “prejudice and discrimination because of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, ancestry, place of birth, age, sex, sexual orientation, (and) gender identity,” among a multitude of other categories of people.
The issue of the Christmas tree being a focal point of discrimination came up after the Seacoast Chabad Jewish Center in Durham asked for the menorah to be placed next to the tree, the New Hampshire Union Leader reported.
Town Administrator Todd Selig told the paper Durham officials were not comfortable leaving a menorah up during the eight nights of Hanukkah over fear the religious symbol would be vandalized.
A menorah, which was stolen in nearby Chestnut Hill, outside of Boston, Massachusetts, was recovered last week, but it was significantly damaged.
300 lb Menorah stolen from Temple Emeth in Chestnut Hill. Boston Police recovered it on Weld Ave. and Church St. in West Roxbury. pic.twitter.com/QWb0RqIoxh
— Rick Macomber (@boston_camera) November 28, 2018
The Durham council authorized a one-night event marking the beginning of Hanukkah instead of leaving the menorah on public land.
Selig noted, “The menorah raised a broader concern for me. I have a concern about the display of religious symbols on public property. We should have it for all, or none at all.”
The administrator further stated there is not room to have symbols from all religions on the small plot of land called Memorial Park.
The Human Rights Commission discussed the matter on Nov. 26, which led to the panel’s recommendation to end its Christmas tree lighting ceremony.
A possible alternative being considered is holding a “winter carnival.”
Durham holiday tree, menorah debate a hot topic https://t.co/RNGUgopLhb
— Town of Durham, NH (@town_of_durham) December 5, 2018
Kitty Marple, chairman of the Human Rights Commission and the town council, said she could support the carnival theme.
“I am a person of no religious affiliation. These things don’t bother me, but I understand how they might bother someone else,” Marple said.
Rabbi Berel Slavaticki with Seacoast Chabad Jewish Center told WTBS he is not trying to interfere with the annual Christmas tree lighting tradition.
“The fact that the city allows for some to publicly express their culture is a good thing, and we hope that continues,” Slavaticki said in a statement. “To stop people from openly expressing their particular faith seems un-American and would be a terrible loss for our town and our country.”
Slavaticki further related that his center is committed to working with town officials “to create a path forward that will allow everyone to enjoy their constitutionally guaranteed rights.”
“Not allowing a menorah for fear of anti-Semitism only emboldens and enables those who hate,” he said. “After all, that’s exactly what they’d want to see; our menorah not allowed.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the right of towns to have Christmas displays, including nativity scenes, as long as they are inclusive of other holiday traditions.
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