Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Susan Rosenbluth and fellow Orthodox Jews yesterday came to Maplewood, N.J., to join a crowd of more than 100 carolers in singing Christmas and Hanukkah songs in front of Columbia High School.

Holiday hymns were sung in response to school policies that Steve Lonegan — the Republican mayor of nearby Bogota, N.J., who organized the event — called “intolerance” toward traditional religious beliefs.

The carolers showed up outside the school, which held its annual holiday music program last night, to protest a South Orange/Maplewood School District ban on religious songs at schools in this community across the Hudson River from New York.

“The greatest works of art in Western civilization are inspired by religious — predominantly Christian — convictions,” said Mrs. Rosenbluth, editor of Jewish Voice and Opinion, an Englewood-based monthly.

“We are religious Jews who believe Western civilization is the heritage of all of our children in the United States,” Mrs. Rosenbluth said, explaining why she and other Orthodox Jews joined the protest.

“This started out as a small event I decided last week to do,” said Mr. Lonegan, who is Catholic. “I expected a handful of people and attacks against me by newspaper editors. Instead, there’s this groundswell of support and the newspapers haven’t attacked me — yet.”

He, Mrs. Rosenbluth and about 200 fellow carolers, all in high spirits, sang such traditional tunes as “Silent Night,” “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and “Joy to the World” — as well as “Come Light the Menorah” and “I Have a Little Dreydl.”

Mr. Lonegan, a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor, said he asked the other Republican candidates and the Democratic governor of the state to join in the protest caroling, but they hadn’t responded. Maplewood Mayor Frank Profeta, a Democrat, came to the event to shake hands and greet the protesters.

“I’ve been on all three network channels here and have been doing radio shows on stations all over the United States, from Kansas and Texas to Florida and Vermont,” Mr. Lonegan said.

Mr. Lonegan called the school district’s prohibition of traditional Christmas music “the ultimate demonstration of intolerance by a small minority of people who appear to be offended by the very core values that the vast majority of Americas live by — Jews, Moslems, Christian, who all believe in one God.”

A recent Opinion Dynamics poll “found that more than half of American say they call the upcoming festive time the ‘Christmas season,’ while under a third call it the ‘holiday season’ and 12 percent say they use both terms,” Fox News reported.

Outcries over anti-Christmas rules have been heeded by some politicians, including California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Republican reversed an edict by former Democratic Gov. Gray Davis that designated an official state “holiday tree,” and reverted to the familiar title of “Christmas tree” during the annual lighting ceremony in Sacramento.

A Virginia-based group calling itself “RightMarch.com” has been airing a radio ad across the country urging people to “stand up and defend Christmas from … blatant attacks.”

The group reports these incidents as the latest examples of such attacks:

• Schools in Palm Beach County, Fla., warned teachers not to allow any Christmas decorations to be displayed.

• Across the country, children in public schools have been barred from giving out Christmas cards, and some have been banned from using the greeting “Merry Christmas.”

• In a New Jersey elementary school, a class trip to see a Broadway performance of the Charles Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol” was canceled owing to the threat of a lawsuit.

• At a Plano, Texas, school, parents were prohibited from using red and green plates and napkins — they could bring only white decorations for “winter” parties.

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