Commentary: Excuse me, but that’s covered under the First Amendment!

Published on: December 26, 2013

Penny Fletcher

Penny Fletcher


It’s a wonderful thing to co-exist with neighbors who are different from us but when did sending a Christmas card or lighting a menorah become a hate crime?

I know, they aren’t exactly listed as “hate crimes” yet, but it looks like that’s on the way.

People are afraid to stir up trouble, afraid of reprisal from bosses or (in the case of students) teachers and administrators, if they say Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah instead of Happy Holidays in any public place.

It’s true. It’s finally reached the point where grade school children are told to bring holiday cards for the number of children in their class but they must not have any symbols or wording on them that reflect any type of religion.

I found this out a few years back because I am raising a granddaughter.

“We can’t have Christmas trees or anything like that but Santas are okay,” she told me.

One year I got a pack of cards with a nice Nativity scene on the front and she burst out in tears.

“I’ll be in real trouble if I take those to school,” I was told.

Having gone to school in the 1950s and 1960s and having had children in school in the 1970s and 1980s, I was used to having to buy Valentines for everyone in the class in February, and Christmas cards in December.
It was just what was done.

Now, I went to school in New Jersey, which happens to be a very tolerant state. I didn’t know there was a problem with anybody’s color until My Weekly Reader told of George Wallace blocking the school door’s steps in a place called Alabama.

I wasn’t Jewish but I had Jewish friends, and they taught me how to spin a dreidel and  dance the horah to Hava Nagila at a bar mitzvah.

I was introduced to cornbread at a black friend’s house when I was 10. I don’t think many people in New Jersey knew how to make cornbread, but this family had come from somewhere far away: Mississippi, I think. I remember the cornbread Mrs. Johnson made was flaky and she served it with a spoonful of melted butter over each piece.

In December, we had a Christmas tree in our house and some of my friends lit menorahs in theirs.

One summer, Mama Genovese taught me how to make real Italian spaghetti sauce and later that year Mrs. Nadelson, who lived next door, taught me what foods were laid out on a table for Passover. All I remember about that now are bitter herbs, egg, and something about a lamb bone. And I can’t make good cornbread either.

Yet every home and every tradition was an education. Oh, we didn’t know it at the time. We just thought trying new things was fun.

In 1956, we got a new boy in our class who came from Hungary and he couldn’t speak a word of English. My Weekly Reader said something about the Hungarian Revolution. The teacher told us that was why he had come to our school.

Within weeks, he was learning English and playing games on the playground with the rest of us.

That was just the way it was.

I keep referring to My Weekly Reader because back in those days, we didn’t watch much television and kids never watched the news. That little publication was our news, and we got it in school. We read it word for word aloud and heard what was happening in our world.

Most of us didn’t know the word “tolerance” back then.

Oh, I realize it wasn’t like that for everybody. It depended upon where you lived. But today, all over the United States, people are afraid to show differences of any kind — especially when it comes to religion.

They act like it’s against the law to make reference to the religious part of the winter holidays.

“Say Happy Holidays,” my granddaughter said. “Not Merry Christmas.”

Why? I asked.

“Because you could hurt somebody’s feelings.”

People seem to assume this litany of political correct speech is law.

It isn’t.

The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States says it isn’t.

We can light a menorah next to a Christmas tree and put the seven-candles and Unity Cup of Kwanzaa, which by the way starts Dec. 26, right next to them.

If Buddhists or Muslims or Hindus want to place their symbols next to these, and American Indians want to draw a medicine wheel — so be it.

Atheists should be welcome to put up a plaque or some other statement as to why they have their belief — excuse me, doesn’t the First Amendment say they can?

Either the Bill of Rights exists for everybody or it doesn’t exist at all.

It’s a shame when children have to be afraid to say Merry Christmas (Christ’s Mass?) to their friends in school.

But it isn’t the children’s shame.

It’s ours.