- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 25, 2003

The Grinch might not have stolen Christmas this year, but he almost got away with depriving thousands of Virginians of their Christmas trees. Eight months ago, the Virginia General Assembly enacted a law barring real Christmas trees from public buildings without sprinkler systems — including apartment buildings and condominiums. The problem, according to the Virginia Department of Fire Programs, was that these were fire hazards — that it was only a matter of time until lives were lost. To make our seasonal displays safer, violators would be fined $2,500 if arrested with a real tannenbaum. A rash of protests forced the state to loosen the bah-humbug law, but the government is still playing Scrooge.

Earlier in the month, the prohibition against Christmas trees was relaxed for residential units without sprinklers. However, it is still in force for other buildings open to the public, such as schools, libraries, shops, banquet halls, funeral parlors, even churches. And the authorities are enforcing the law on the books. Two weeks ago, Hampton, Va., Fire Chief Robert Green cited two churches for violating fire codes. They were given 48 hours to get rid of the trees, one of which was located in a church’s sanctuary. The removal order was extended to 10 days, but the illegal symbols had to be removed before Christmas.

The anti-Christmas-tree law is bad on several grounds. In the first place, it doesn’t make the public safer. According to the state of Virginia, there was not a single case of a fire started by a Christmas tree last year. But more to the point, a ban of Christmas trees is an attack on the religious roots of the holiday. The Christmas-tree custom spread as millions of German immigrants — mostly Catholics and Lutherans — came to America in earlier centuries. Approximately 160 years ago, Charles Minnigerode, a German immigrant and professor at the College of William and Mary, decorated Virginia’s first Christmas tree in Williamsburg. The first Christmas tree was brought to the White House by Franklin Pierce, the president from 1853 to 1857. Today, according to the Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association, more than 37 million American families celebrate Christmas with real Christmas trees every year.

The ban on Christmas trees is part of the larger trend to exile religion and any religious symbols from public life. Last week, for example, the National Football League fined Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna $5,000 for appearing at a post-game press conference with the Cross, the symbol of the Christian faith, on his baseball hat. The NFL only allows league-licensed apparel to be worn during league events, and so the Cross gave notoriously politically correct league officials an excuse to penalize a Christian during the Christmas season. We sympathize with the NFL for trying to enforce a dress code, but in this case the league contributed to the spirit of scorning Christmas.

Speaking of fires, anti-Christian bias and excessive safety regulations make a combustible mix.


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