- - Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Halloween mischief lurks in all the usual places, and this time, rambunctious teenagers aren’t to blame. Some adults are out to rid their communities of the holiday fun altogether. They’re trying to soothe anxiety, whether over children taking candy from strangers or the modern security concerns over masks that hide a wearer from the government’s facial-recognition cameras. But it’s Halloween’s roots in religion, though barely discernible, that give the fainthearted and excessively sensitive the most anxiety.

The principal of Inglewood Elementary School near Philadelphia surprised the town earlier this month when he canceled Halloween celebrations, including a popular costume parade. “Some holidays, like Halloween are viewed … as having religious overtones,” he wrote to parents. “The district must always be mindful of the sensitivity of all the members of the community with regard to holidays and celebrations of a religious, cultural or secular nature.”

It didn’t take long for parents who think this sensitivity business should run in both directions spooked the principal’s superiors into reversing the ban. The school sent a second letter saying the principal’s decision “is not an accurate representation of the school district’s administrative regulation … .”

The war on innocent fun is all about us. At Maryland Elementary School in Bexley, Ohio, the kids won a similar reprieve for the ghosts and goblins when the principal decided not to replace Halloween with a fall festival, after all. In Canada, where political correctness runs even more fiercely amok, the usual Halloween observances were scrapped in Winnipeg and in Ontario.

The Pentagon, where the admirals and generals are easily frightened by Christians and Jews (by Muslims, not so much), banned scary masks at the 38th Marine Corps Marathon. They were spooked by the Boston Marathon massacre. Caution is good, but uncontrolled, it can lead to fear, as at Sporting Hill Elementary School in Pennsylvania. All Halloween costumes were banned because, parents were told, “safety is a top priority.”

To be sure, Halloween, a contraction of All Hallows’ Eve, originated in Christian practice, though not in Scripture or doctrine, as a prelude to a solemn day for remembering the dead, including saints, or “Hallows.” But time can dissolve the underlying meaning of religious ritual, leaving behind the practice without the preaching. There’s rarely any identifiable sign of Christian content in the costumes of ghosts, goblins, ghouls and devils.

Nonbelievers share with the faithful a nation rooted in the beliefs of the Founding Fathers, whether the nonbelievers like it or not. George Washington observed, “While we are zealously performing the duties of good citizens and soldiers, we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian.” Even today, the fundamental Christian tenets enshrined in the Declaration of Independence “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” continue to anchor the respect for individual liberties that skeptics, like the devout, cherish.

School officials who fear that every custom with roots in religion will offend someone should not take counsel with their fears. Rather than ruin the fun, Halloween haters could dress up as Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the godmother of American atheism. That would frighten the devil himself.

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