The Plank

A Tnr Holiday: Pittsburgh’s Menorah Wars

In 1996, Michael
McGough looked
at the debate over holiday displays and the comically absurd "reindeer rule"
that regulates where menorahs and nativity scenes can be displayed across the
country. It's a controversy that ultimately homed in on a specific menorah in

From this chronicle it is obvious that the combatants in
menorah wars have been faithful to the spirit if not the letter of recent
Supreme Court pronouncements in this area. That spirit is one of dissembling
about what is really at stake in the debate over religious displays at
government buildings. It is simply not credible that the religious character of
a menorah or a reverent depiction of the Nativity can be subsumed in a
three-ring-circus celebration of what Justice Blackmun called the "winter
holiday season." And it is disingenuous to suggest that the Jews and
Christians who rallied round the menorah and the Nativity respectively were
motivated primarily by a concern for free speech or an open public forum. What
they crave is government acknowledgment of their miracles. If all they wanted
to do was gaze upon a Nativity scene or menorah in a public place, they could
stroll through any of several Pittsburgh
neighborhoods- or open an account at Mellon Bank.

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