Archive for Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Airport dismantles holiday displays

December 12, 2006


— As odd as it might seem, Sea-Tac Airport officials were hoping to avoid controversy when they had maintenance crews dismantle nine holiday trees festooned with red ribbons and bows over the weekend.

The airport managers ordered the plastic trees removed and boxed up after a rabbi asked to have an 8-foot-tall menorah displayed next to the largest tree in the international arrival hall.

Port of Seattle staff thought adding the menorah would have required adding symbols for other religions and cultures in the Northwest, said Terri-Ann Betancourt, the airport's spokeswoman. The holidays are the busiest season at the airport, she said, and staff didn't have time to play cultural anthropologists.

"We decided to take the trees down because we didn't want to be exclusive," she said. "We're trying to be thoughtful and respectful, and will review policies after the first of the year."

The decision, made in consultation with the Port's elected board of commissioners, interrupts a decades-long tradition at the airport. No sooner had the trees come down than their removal spread something less than holiday cheer across religious groups.

Elazar Bogomilsky, the rabbi who last month asked that a menorah be displayed, said he was "appalled" by the Port's reaction to what he believed to be a simple request. There are public menorah lightings at the White House and cities across the Northwest, he said. Next week, Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire will help light a menorah under the Capitol Dome in Olympia.

Why not the airport?

"Everyone should have their spirit of the holiday. For many people the trees are the spirit of the holidays, and adding a menorah adds light to the season," said Bogomilsky, who works at Chabad Lubavitch, a Jewish education foundation headquartered in the University District.

Instead, the Port dragged its feet for weeks and hired an outside attorney to research religious-freedom case law, said Harvey Grad, Bogomilsky's attorney.

"They've darkened the hall instead of turning the lights up," said Grad. "There is a concern here that the Jewish community will be portrayed as the Grinch."

The U.S. Supreme Court had determined that menorahs, like Christmas trees, can be secular symbols if they are not part of a religious-themed display. Bogomilsky's menorah - like those in other public places - is lit with bulbs, rather than oil, which requires a blessing before lighting.

Craig Watson, the port's chief lawyer, said Bogomilsky's menorah likely fits the Supreme Court's definition of secular. But the Port did not want to allow an outside group to erect a holiday display at the airport, he said, and staff was too busy with holiday traffic to deal with the complexities of doing it themselves.

With Hanukkah to begin this Friday at sundown, the issue came to a head late last week. Grad threatened to file a federal civil-rights lawsuit and set a deadline of Friday for the Port to make a decision. That left insufficient time to consider the issue, Watson said.

"We're not in the business of offending anyone," Watson said, "and we're not eager to get into a federal lawsuit with anyone."


geekin_topekan 11 years, 5 months ago

Good point.No time for this bs.Take it down and concentrate on more important things.

hottruckinmama 11 years, 5 months ago

geez what an unpleasant world we live in anymore.

cowgomoo 11 years, 5 months ago

For those who are offended by anything Christmas you need to have the courage of your convictions and come to work on Christmas day. If your work pays you overtime or Holiday pay, refuse to accept it.

Personally I would not be offended by a menorah (or eight paid days off for Hannukah!)

classclown 11 years, 5 months ago

Before logging on to LJW this morning, I saw another news story about Sea-Tacs decision to put the trees back up. How behind the times is this paper anyway?

oldgranny 11 years, 5 months ago

My not so nice Jehovah Witness neighbor was offended by my Halloween decorations last year. I told her to go take a flying leap. Now I make sure I put out even more Christmas and Halloween decorations just for her :):)

budwhysir 11 years, 5 months ago

cant we all just get along. When I think of all the things I could get mad about today, I find there just isnt enough time.

I believe we should all agree to disagree.

prioress 11 years, 5 months ago

Airports are for meeting planes, not for celebrating pagan holidays or ancient superstitions. Relax...

Christine Pennewell Davis 11 years, 5 months ago

It does say in the article that the Rabbi was apall by the removeal and I am glad to hear that and glad that statement made it into the article. I do not see any reason why the airport could not have put up a menorah.

heysoos 11 years, 5 months ago

Whoa....the War on Christmas started LATE this year!

SpeedRacer 11 years, 5 months ago

I predict some serious personnel adjustments at Sea-Tacs over this (Merry Christmas). Glad they have put everything back up.

Linda Endicott 11 years, 5 months ago

Doesn't anyone else get it? It wasn't adding a menorah that was the problem.

No matter that Congress has passed laws to try and curb it, we're still a sue-happy nation. Everyone seems ready to sue at the drop of a hat. Notice that the rabbi already has an attorney. Now, shouldn't he be more concerned about his own faith and his own congregation than in hassling an airport about Christmas trees? If he's such a God-fearing man, respectful of other religions or customs, then why did he go right out and hire an attorney??

Did it personally harm him in any way? No...just as seeing menorahs and stars of David don't harm me. I'm not Jewish, but it doesn't bother me in the least when I see these symbols.

Why is it that so many people seem to be afraid of the religious or secular symbols of others? Are they so insecure in their own faith that they think these symbols will somehow sway their beliefs?

It speaks volumes to me that the first thought in the head of a supposed man of God was to hire an attorney and think about suing.

I understand, from the news this morning, that they've put the trees back up...I don't know about the menorah.

But never doubt that it was the fear of being sued that caused the removal of the trees in the first place.

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