Life in Williston

Political correctness season

Dec. 15, 2011

By Neel Tandan


Around this time last year, while leaving an elementary school that I worked at in Burlington, I said to a fellow employee, “happy holidays,” upon departing. He responded, not so cordially, “It’s Merry Christmas. None of that happy holiday (expletive).” I walked away feeling slightly uncomfortable, but also wanting to just get home.

It took a little while before I was able to digest the brief happening: a public employee working at a very large and diverse elementary school was at odds with the more or less designated and neutral holiday lingo that was typically used to describe this time of year. I was also trying to reconcile two apparently opposing ideas: the man struck me as someone who seemed to display a genuine love for his country, a patriot, if you will, but was also at odds with at least a section of its founding document: The First Amendment of the United States Constitution and a part of the Bill of Rights, which starts by saying, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”

Recently, another blurb of news crossed my path that is relevant to this conversation. In Rhode Island, with one of the highest Roman Catholic populations in the country, Gov. Lincoln Chafee unveiled, in his words, a “holiday tree” in the statehouse that caused an uproar. The nomenclature he used was obviously deliberate and he cited religious tolerance and equanimity, as well as following the example of previous governors as his reasoning. As expected, Christians en masse, the Roman Catholic Church and others within and outside of the state were outraged. Another tree was actually placed in the Statehouse hallway by Republican lawmaker Doreen Costa as a counterpoint and a blatant act of disapproval. The governor has been criticized for taking political correctness too far, but Chafee stands by his decision.

This duel goes back centuries, often times between Christians alike.

Today, groups like the American Civil Liberties Union fight for a completely secular system, wielding the First Amendment as their weapon of choice. Christians, meanwhile, are fighting back with the same document — and in some cases succeeding. In 1984, the U.S. Supreme Court in Lynch vs. Donnelly ruled that the town of Pawtucket, R.I. could use town property to display Christmas decorations.

In Williston, many retailers have slowly eliminated certain religious words from their advertising to have greater mass appeal to consumers. As a result, some Christian groups have actually called for boycotts of these companies’ merchandise and refuse to shop there while others just don’t care.

Neel Tandan is a lifelong Williston resident who graduated from the University of Vermont in 2010.