December 27, 2013

Commentary: Beware of politically correct fanatics’ war on common sense

From insisting on removal of Nativity scenes to panicking over a pastry, some overreact to ‘trifles.’

By Jay Ambrose

DENVER — After complaints about some Nativity scenes in military dining halls at Guantanamo Bay, they were hauled away. Their presence was an unconstitutional governmental promotion of a religion, supposedly, and I can’t help wondering how much longer we are going to put up with Thursday.

about the author

Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard Newspapers and an editor of daily newspapers in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.

Does no one know this day of the week was named after Thor, a Norwegian god? Does the word never appear on government calendars? Is there no one fanatical enough to take on this promotion outrage, too?

My suggestion is that what happened at the Guantanamo base was as much a war on common sense as it was a war on Christmas. Nothing, it sometimes seems, is any longer too tiny, too innocent, too ordinary to prevent a ringing of alarms that ought to be reserved for threats like burglars and hurricanes. While a trifle can do the trick, though, it does have to be the kind of trifle that foreshadows Armageddon to a certain kind of super-sensitized, politically correct temperament.

Earlier this year, as one chilling example, a 7-year-old boy chewed a strawberry pastry to look like a mountain, found it looked like a gun, said “bang, bang” and was suspended. The only injured party, of course, was the emotionally abused boy, and you can see what is happening here. It’s gun control gone berserk. Any harm to others is justified in pursuit of an extremity that finally has absolutely nothing to do with the safety of children at the school.

Back in September, at a junior college in Modesto, Calif., a student was handing out copies of the Constitution until a campus police officer showed up and put a stop to this unheard-of exercise in rabble rousing. He could hand out such material only in a designated zone and was supposed to sign up and wait, he was soon informed. Again we can imagine where such policies came from. To some ways of thinking, an uninhibited exchange of ideas can offend someone, and they are right. It can. But that’s not worry enough to deny free speech.

Let’s return to Christmas, starting with one of my favorite descriptions of it as “a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time.” That’s Fred speaking in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

Fred is the nephew of Ebenezer Scrooge, whose reaction was “bah, humbug,” and that brings us to the American Civil Liberties Union. It looks at a faith that is foundationally embedded in our civilization and ridiculously sees simple reflections of that fact as theocracy on the rise, or if not quite that, as religious proselytizing. It then threatens lawsuits that can cost victims millions and sometimes cower institutions into grotesque stupidities.

The litany is a long one, from banning carols and pageants in schools to removing creches from city hall lawns. Here is a particular one that sums it up pretty well. In Covington, Ga., the ACLU stomped its indignant foot at the school board for using the word “Christmas” on its calendar instead of just saying “winter break.” For a period, anyway, the school board obliged, and I think that is as nutty as my complaint about Thursday on official calendars.

Fanaticism is fanaticism, no matter what its source, and it is a societal danger that deserves opposition. What finally saved Scrooge? Reminders of mistakes in the past and what awaits in the future.

The more we remind ourselves of what fanaticism has rendered in other lands and could render in ours, the more we will push back, but in a way, I hope, that keeps forgiveness and charity in mind.

— McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

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