Controversial "Christmas Break" Email Draws Atheist Group's Attention

2126957396_e5d902201fA Michigan school district has caught the eye of the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion after they changed the name of their December vacation from “winter break” to “Christmas break,” reports the Petoskey News Review.

The group, which according to the Petoskey News Review is the largest association of atheists and agnostics in the country, took issue with the Petoskey Public School Board taking the apparent backwards step of changing the name from the more inclusive “winter break” to the less politically correct “Christmas break.”

The move may have gone unnoticed if it hadn’t been for board member Jack Waldvogel’s controversial and somewhat bullying email to his fellow board members.

Here are the highlights:

We are, in spite of what the Obamessiah proclaims, STILL a Christian nation, founded on Judeo Christian principles. God is included in every State Constitution, and His name is embedded on every Federal Building in Washington, DC.

Two choices here for our school district….either agree to change the “December vacation” back to “Christmas Break”, in ALL future publications (including the school calendar) voluntarily, or I will make a motion to change it at the NEXT Board meeting, and raise such a stink, and bring out
every redneck Christian Conservative north of Clare, to compel the District to do so. The press will love this one….. TV, Radio, and the print media. We may go Statewide with this one. I’m not in the least interested what our school lawyers might think of this, they can celebrate or fail to celebrate however they wish.

Our children need to know that we are a Christian nation and taking all reference to a higher being out of our educational vocabulary is wrong. Let the Ramadamians and the Kwanzanians bring their celebrations to school too….to share with our Christian children, but don’t cut God out of the school completely.

Though Waldvogel claims his email was “tongue-in-cheek,” he ended with this line:  “Don’t assume this is a joke…… I’m being as serious as I possibly can here.”  Waldvogel also told the Petoskey News Review that the email was meant to be private, but unintentionally reached all district staff.

Freedom from Religion says that their complaint is not the change in the wording of the vacation itself, but that Waldvogel’s email makes it clear that the reason behind the move was motivated purely by religion, a factor that they say makes it illegal.  In a letter written to the school district and reported by the Petoskey News Review, Freedom from Religion’s staff attorney said:

“Changing the wording to Christmas break so that Petoskey school children know we are a ‘Christian nation’ violates the most basic and fundamental principles of Establishment Clause jurisprudence.  Mr. Waldvogel’s intent and purpose for recommending the change was based wholly on religion.”

A local source who preferred to remain anonymous said that while she’s disappointed in Waldvogel’s political perspective and his choice of words, she hopes that this situation won’t be his legacy.  “He’s been involved with the schools for well over a decade,” she tells Strollerderby.  “He’s done so much for the schools and the community.  He won’t back down from this particular position, but he’s hurt by the controversy surrounding it and that the focus is now on this and not more important matters.”

Petoskey is a small, conservative town, so the decision to rename the school break isn’t a surprise, but Waldvogel’s words were equal parts stunning and offensive, especially coming from a professional and a school board member.

If the goal is to get Petoskey’s kids to believe that they’re living in a Christian nation, then the board should start by modeling Christian principles – respect, humility, tolerance, for starters.  But the bottom line is that it’s not a public school’s job to decide what people celebrate when they take those two weeks off every winter.

In the end, I’m pretty sure that kids don’t really pay attention to or really care what the break is called as long as they get the time off.  Maybe Waldvogel and his fellow school board members need to take their own advice and stop fussing over vocabulary so they can focus on more important issues their district faces.

What do you think about the district’s decision?  And what do you think about Waldvogel’s email?

Photo: Gary Lerude, Flickr

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