Tongue Tied: Seasonal Scrooges & No Prayers Before Flying

A Christmas angel that once graced the top of a tree at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Florida is instead now locked in a secretary's cabinet after some employees complained about its white skin, reports the St. Petersburg Times.

The same day that officials at the VA Medical Center at Bay Pines put up the tree and its controversial top, complaints came in to the Equal Employment Opportunity office questioning their stance on diversity and religious tolerance.

The employees "were just concerned that in this day and time with everything going on in the world [that] management would do better and put up something more diverse than a white angel," said Joan Harris, Bay Pines Equal Employment Opportunity manager.

The following day, hospital director Thomas Weaver ordered the offending cherub removed and sent word to 2,100 employees that no angels would be tolerated anywhere.

It's That Season

Officials in Minnesota removed red poinsettias from a county courthouse because some people consider them a symbol of the Christian Christmas holiday, reports the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune.

Ramsey County Manager Paul Kirkwold had the flowers removed from the hall. Instead, he ordered the installation of ribbons representing flags from around the world and two banners adorned with white doves carrying olive branches and the word "Peace" written in three dozen languages to hang alongside a 36-foot-tall Vision of Peace statue.

People complained, Kirkwold said, so he put in white poinsettias instead. But he maintained his objection to the red flowers. "This is a government building that's open to all people," he said. "We all talk about diversity, but when it hits us close to our traditions, we get nervous."

Modern Airport Priorities

On the advice of an attorney, the Jacksonville, Fla., Airport Authority last week put an end to daily prayer services that started at the airport after September's terrorist attacks, closed the airport chaplain's office and forbade clergy volunteers at the airport from identifying themselves as chaplains, reports The Florida Times-Union.

Authority officials said people can pray all they want, but the authority can't sanction or promote religious activity at the publicly owned airport terminal. "As an agency, we can't advance or inhibit religion," JAA spokeswoman Laurene Carson said.

The authority's lawyer, Cindy Laquidera, said regular prayer services can't be scheduled in the airport's chapel. "That's too close to an endorsement of religion and that's not the government's job," she said. "We're not trying to squash anything, we're just trying to keep it within constitutional borders."

Modern Standards for Aged Icons

The Portland, Maine, chapter of the NAACP is objecting to that city's plan to install a statue of the city's founder, George Cleeve, on a state pier because he may have owned a slave when he settled the area 368 years ago, reports the Portland Press Herald.

Calling it offensive to memorialize such a man, the NAACP is calling on city officials not to install a seven-foot bronze statue of Cleeve. "We can't sit here and condone the city paying homage to a man who may have introduced slavery to the city," said Winston McGill, a Portland firefighter and vice president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Even though it is far from certain that Cleeve owned a slave — little is known about the Englishman — the City Council appears ready to rethink its acceptance of the statue.

"Obviously, this is an issue of some sensitivity," said City Councilor Nathan Smith. "There are deep concerns about whether or not it's appropriate to put this statue in a public space."

Losers (or Winners) Not Welcome

Officials at a youth soccer league in England have forbidden the teams from publicizing the results of their games so the losers will not be embarrassed, reports The Times of London.

Teams in the South Buckinghamshire Mini Soccer Conference, for players under 10 years old, must not mention the final score or which team won or lost in reports sent to local newspapers. The title "first team" has also been banned to avoid hurting the feelings of players in other teams.

The reports "can highlight which boys have scored goals, whether it was a great game, who was man of the match and whether the referee did well, but the winning or losing is not an aspect we can go into at junior level," said Trevor Saunders, secretary of the league. "If you lose 15-0 it really hurts these boys, it does them no good at all."

More Unwelcome Opinions

A group of University of Wisconsin law students is starting a letter-writing campaign with the goal of getting a member of the state's Board of Regents removed because he suggested that the school should work to increase the pool of minority applicants rather than use race as a factor in admissions, reports The Associated Press.

In a guest column in the Wisconsin State Journal, regent Frederic Mohs wrote that too many young black students have become "culturally disinclined to dedicate themselves to school as much as other students do." He said it is an attitude problem and "not genetic inferiority."

Students leading the petition drive said the article was based on ignorance about minorities. One said the regent failed to take into account how recently American blacks were freed from legalized racism.

"Blacks in America have suffered under slavery, Jim Crow and just plain racism longer than we have been free and longer than some legal barriers like school desegregation have been removed," said law student Darius Davenport.

Adventures in Etymology

Homeless folks in Britain can now be referred to as "rough sleepers" if the name of a government unit dedicated to helping them is any indication. The Times of London reported last week that the number of people "sleeping rough" in Britain has fallen 71 percent in the last three years to just over 500, this according to the government's Rough Sleepers Unit.

Open-Minded at Mizzou

Before they've even seen it, some women at the University of Missouri-Columbia are upset about the publication of a calendar dubbed the "Women of Mizzou," reports the student newspaper there, The Maneater.

The same group that produced the "Men of Mizzou" calendar last year have produced a similar product this year featuring women. Proceeds from the sales are destined for The Sept. 11th Fund and Twin Towers Fund, two charities for victims of the 9/11 terror attacks.

But Allison Mitchell, president of the Women's Alliance, complained that the calendar exploits women by portraying them as objects.

"She had only seen the advertisement, and she told me she was basing her views about [the calendar's] objectification of women on the advertisement," said Joe Ross, the calendar's creator. "She hadn't seen the calendar; she didn't want to see the calendar."

From the Central Servers:

Keith E. in San Jose, Calif., wonders:

If we have to start referring to "illegal aliens" as "undocumented workers," what do we call them if they are unemployed?

David T. of Atlanta, Ga., writes of the UNLV fiasco:

It is a sad state of affairs that we are giving over our next generation of adults to so called professional teachers, who are narrow minded, bigoted and show disrespect for the very people who safeguard their right to act like spoiled children.

Anna F. from New Orleans, La., asks:

You wrote that in Kensington, MD, Santa was not invited to the annual tree-lighting ceremony because families "complained that his presence at a city event would make them feel uncomfortable because they do not celebrate the holidays." If they do not celebrate the holidays, what are they doing at a tree lighting ceremony?

Harry H. of Jonesboro, Ark., writes:

A professor expresses concern that students might suffer from taking courses which provide inadequate writing and analytical skills, and the students respond by demanding sensitivity training? Judging by their failure to comprehend the full text of his e-mail, his concerns are obviously justified.

Steve F. of Tucson, Ariz., writes:

I'm all for inclusion and diversity. Adding new traditions and practices to the holidays should be encouraged. But why do we need to destroy the traditions of one culture in order to show respect for another? That seems to contradict the goal of inclusion.

John G. of Nashville, Tenn., writes:

Larry Sauer is exactly right when he says that "requiring students to blindly repeat the pledge is no different than the Taliban requiring children to memorize the Koran and repeat it by rote, without understanding why or what they are saying." We should also require that the students learn and understand the meaning of the pledge so that they can truly appreciate it and the fact that they live in the greatest nation the world has ever seen.

Rob W. writes:

I was shocked to see an article on CNN's webpage that is blatantly biased. The article refers to a new electronically-based-self-replicating-user-annoyance-program as a "virus." In an age where news agencies are removing the negative word "terrorist" from their news reports to remain neutral, shouldn't CNN catch up with the times and quit referring to the artwork of anti-establishment-computer-freedom-fighters as a "virus," which clearly carries an equally negative connotation?