Ho ho no!

2006-12-14 10:02

London - It's looking like a bleak mid-winter for Britain this Christmas as businesses and schools seek to airbrush out the annual Christian festival for fear of offending people of other faiths.

The popular press is hot on the heels of the Christmas "killjoys", compiling an almost daily list of politically-correct do good-ers who they say, frankly, are just spoiling the fun for everyone.

One school has banned Christmas cards in class, a court has told a householder he can only have a certain number of lights on his property while a traditional Nativity play has been replaced by reggae-style Christmas carols.

And one school in Rotherham, northern England, has decided this year to offer halaal turkey and chicken for its Christmas meal following pressure from parents in the sizeable Muslim community there.

But businesses are not immune either: three out of four British firms (74 percent) said in a survey out this week that they had outlawed tinsel, trees and traditional festive trappings from the workplace.

According to the law firm that carried out the survey, it's not just fear of causing offence to non-Christian religious minorities that's driving the phenomenon.

Employers said they "are sceptical and dismayed by this trend" but "they feel that they have little choice... due to the threat of litigation".

The row snowballed last week when senior government ministers Jack Straw and John Reid waded in.

Former foreign secretary Straw, now leader of parliament's lower House of Commons, called it "politically correct nonsense".

"I've never met a Christian who isn't delighted to recognise Yom Kippur (the Jewish New Year), nor (the Muslim festival of) Eid, nor Diwali (the Hindu festival of light).

"Nor have I met a Muslim who denies my right to celebrate the birth of Christ," said Straw, whose views against the wearing of the full-face Muslim veil in October sparked a furious debate about religious identity.

Home Secretary Reid for his part branded the whole subject "mad", including British Airways' ban - later rescinded - on a Christian check-in employee wearing a small cross necklace at work.

"Like the vast majority of people, I'm sick and tired of this sort of mad political correctness that said you can't wear a crucifix on British Airways or you can't put up decorations for Christmas, or you can't call Christmas 'Christmas'.

"I think most people just find this completely over the top and I would rather have a bit of what I call PCS - Plain Common Sense - than PC - Political Correctness," he said.

But for the National Secular Society's president Terry Sanderson, saying that Christmas is being banned for "christophobic" reasons is "exaggerated and misleading".

"It is usually for cost or health and safety reasons," he says.

Nevertheless, certain businesses have taken to using the greeting "season's greetings" instead of "Merry Christmas", in order keep clients onside.

According to the Christian-Muslim Forum: "Those who use the fact of religious pluralism as an excuse to de-Christianise British society unthinkingly become recruiting agents for the extreme right."

This "will tend, as in the past, to backfire badly on the Muslim community in particular".

"The desire to secularise religious festivals is in itself offensive to both of our communities" it added.


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