An elementary school student in Florida who has been practicing her role as Ms. Claus for an after-school play later this year has been told that the play has been cancelled because the principal doesn't want any mention of the word Christmas in end-of-the-year celebrations, reports the Palm Beach Post.

Windmill Point Elementary fifth-grader Kayla Vance was told she can't play St. Nick's partner in A Penguin Christmas because a parent last year demanded strict separation of church and state in the Port St. Lucie schools.

"Any reference to a religious holiday has the potential to offend anyone who is not part of that particular persuasion," said a school spokeswoman.

After last year's complaint, according to parents, teachers insisted that students not bring Santa cupcakes, candy canes or other Christmas-themed treats to a "holiday party." Even donations of canned goods to the needy had to be wrapped in newspaper instead of traditional wrapping paper, they said.

The girl's mother, Mary Anne Bender, is perplexed. "My child learns about Kwanzaa and dreidels," she said. "Why can't they sing about Santa and Rudolph?"

Dastardly Do-Gooders

Peaceniks in Maine are complaining about an anti-drug and confidence-building program being conducted in public middle schools because they say it's an underhanded effort to recruit future soldiers for the war in Iraq, reports the Maine Press Herald.

The group, Maine Veterans for Peace, says the six-week program now offered at 37 schools is so fun that it gives children a false impression of what the National Guard does. Jack Bussell, a member of the anti-war group, calls the program a recruitment tool.

"Military personnel have no business being in middle schools," he says.

Activities in the program include wearing goggles to simulate the impairment caused by alcohol and a version of the TV game show "Jeopardy." The sessions are intended to teach students how to make good decisions, build teamwork and become more confident. Officers conducting the session are in uniform, but the Guard says recruitment is not on the syllabus.

The program culminates with a trip to a military-operated training base where the kids get to work out on the obstacle course, ride tire swings and climb over rope bridges.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Cockroaches

The Chicago Sun Times reports that an amusement park in Illinois is under fire from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals because of a Halloween contest calling on participants to eat a live cockroach.

PETA says it has been flooded with calls after Six Flags in Gurnee announced the promotion. The park said it would give unlimited line-cutting privileges to anyone who manages to consume a live, three-inch Madagascar hissing cockroach.

A spokeswoman for the group called the stunt a gratuitously cruel practice. "Six Flags is meant to be a safe place for family fun, not a place to teach children insensitivity to animals [or] that might makes right," the group said.

Museum Madness

An art teacher in Texas has been let go from the elementary school where she worked after she had the gall to take her fifth-grade students to a local art museum where one of the kids came in contact with nude images, reports the Associated Press.

Sydney McGee, a 28-year veteran of the Frisco Independent School District, was informed that the school board had not renewed her contract after a parent complained that their child saw a nude sculpture during a visit to the Dallas Museum of Art.

District officials insist that the field trip didn't spark the reprimand, but that unknown "performance issues" led to the decision.

Steamed Vegans

Vegetarian activists in Canada are irate about a Canadian Broadcasting Company show titled "Mr. Meaty" that they believe glorifies the consumption of meat, reports to the Montreal Gazette.

The children's puppet show, which features gags about bodily excretions and flatulence, has angered vegans with lyrics in its theme song like "all God's creatures, fresh off the grill!" and "Mr. Meaty" menu items including Tongue 'n' Cheek, Chunky Gravy Slurp, Filet 'o Seal and Hot Dog Water.

Online petitions are urging the CBC and Nickelodeon to drop "Mr. Meaty." One blogger has started a site called "Destroy Mr. Meaty." "It's really horrible and I can't stand how discriminatory that is against vegetarians and vegans," it says. "It's just so sick."

One of the show's creators, Jamie Shannon, has some advice for the whiney vegans: "Take some irony supplements!" He says the show is actually making fun of the fast-food culture.

Mailbag:

Brandon H. in Georgia writes:

I am glad to see the responses here are from reasonable people who don't look for something to get upset about. The people in your topics should try being a white Republican Christian in college these days. Everyone else seems to enjoy free speech, as long as it doesn't rattle the fragile ego of someone who thinks they are a minority. If we are all equal, lets all be equal. Some people are WAY overdue for a reality check.

Bill S. in Minnesota writes:

This so-called "disturbing trend" of using religion to win elections, isn't that the job of the religious right?

John C. writes:

The word "Jap" harkens back to a time when we were in a bloody war with Japan, and certainly carries a negative connotation. It should not be used in polite conversation. On the other hand, the person who was so incensed might want to consider the Japanese term for all foreigners, "gaijin", meaning barbarian. The term is in current, constant use.

Matthew M. in Kansas writes:

I might have some sympathy for these lady lawyers if there were not so many ads depicting men as ignorant buffoons. Men are stereotyped all the time in advertising, but I don't see a group of gentlemen lawyers suing for it. This kind of PC crap is getting way out of hand. Why don't we just let the advertisers do their spoofs and get over it? This just goes to show that lawyers are just in it for the money.

Stephanie H. writes:

The term "lady lawyers" is almost as sexist and condescending as those beer ads sound.

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