December 24, 2006


A Question of Faith for a Holiday Parade (KIRK JOHNSON, 12/06/04, NY Times)

For many years, this city's annual Parade of Lights was as bland as butter and content to be so. Organized by the local business community, the event shunned politics and anything remotely smacking of controversy, including openly religious Christmas themes that might offend.

The star was Santa, not Jesus, and the mood was bouncy, commercial and determinedly secular.

This year, Jesus came anyway. A local evangelical Christian church called the Faith Bible Chapel sought but failed to get permission for a religious-themed float with a choir singing hymns and carols. By coincidence, Denver's mayor chose this year to change the traditional banner on the roof of the City and County Building. "Merry Christmas" was out. "Happy Holidays" was in.

Like a spark in dry tinder, the result was a flare-up that caught even some church leaders by surprise. A holiday rite that had drawn thousands of paradegoers annually suddenly became a symbol, for many Christians, of secular society run amok.

So for the two nights of the parade, on Friday and Saturday, hundreds of Denver-area faithful headed downtown for a mild but determined protest: from the sidewalk, they sang carols about mangers, shepherds and holy nights, handed out hot chocolate and spoke of their faith.

Many people, including parade organizers who say they will re-evaluate their policies for next year, say the event might never be the same.

"I think it just went too far one way, and now maybe it will tilt back the other," said Lee Martinez, a member of the Faith Bible Chapel who came on Saturday to sing with his wife, Laura.

The controversy exploded in just the last few days, fueled by news reports and stoked by the members of the church and about a dozen allied congregations, with hundreds of e-mail messages sent to parade organizers.

Some say the protests, and a reversal by the mayor, John W. Hickenlooper, over the banner, after a similar outcry, show a new Christian assertiveness and energy. Others, including the senior pastor at Faith Bible Chapel, say they were surprised by the vehemence of the debate that emerged about the role of God and faith in a civic celebration.

The point is that there's tinder waiting to be lit.

(originally posted: 12/10/04)

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 24, 2006 12:00 AM

The last election may have been a turning point. The pseudo-progressives did their worst and failed. Now it seems as hough they have wakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve

Posted by: Lou Gots at December 10, 2004 9:18 PM

So the "controversy exploded" and it resulted in "a mild but determined protest: from the sidewalk, they sang carols about mangers, shepherds and holy nights, handed out hot chocolate and spoke of their faith."

Wow, that sure did explode, didn't it. May need riot police at the next parade.

Posted by: Randall Voth at December 10, 2004 10:58 PM

I must have missed it in the MSM. Too controversial?

Posted by: Genecis at December 11, 2004 11:03 AM

I can't imagine why this is such a big deal. my daughter sings in the high school choir, they put on an annual Christmas concert, with plenty of religiously oriented songs, it isn't all Santa Claus is Coming to Town. There is no controversy here, and Minnesota is a "blue" state.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at December 11, 2004 12:54 PM

Everybody should have the right to put on any parade they want to. If the 'local business community' wants to put on a de-religionized, purely commercial affair, that is their business. If the Faith Christian Church wants a more Christian affair, it can propose its own parade.

This strikes me as a variant of the annual insistence of the Irish Gay and Lesbian Organization(ILGO) to be allowed to participate in the Manhattan St. Patrick's Day parade. The parade is sponsored by the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a religious institution. The AOH doesn't want any group in the parade which, in its view, openly flouts Catholic doctrine, as ILGO does. And to my mind AOH is right. It's their parade, they make the rules.

By the same token, if Christian Christmas shoppers were to boycott stores in the 'local business community' which effectively 'bar Christ from Christmas' they are within their rights to do so. Keep the courts out and let the free market decide.

Posted by: Bart at December 11, 2004 1:12 PM

Would be great to see Denver's Christians sneak-in forbidden "Jesus floats" and watch the police beat them and jail them and set the floats on fire. Wonder whether America's Christians, who have heretofore stomached 40 million abortions without violence, might put on their Crusader faces and force a little change right down the Devil's throat.

Posted by: JimGooding at December 11, 2004 2:08 PM


If you want rights for yourself, you have to respect the rights of others. If you don't want Satanists crashing your parade, don't crash someone else's. Should the Hibernians have to accept the gays in the St Pats parade? Should the Salute to Israel parade be compelled to include a group from Hamas? Should the Stonewall parade be compelled to accept an entry from an evangelical group that claims that homosexuality can be 'cured by prayer?'

Christians have a remedy. That is to organize and boycott the 'business community' that support this ludicrous restriction on Christian symbolism in a parade that ostensibly celebrates the birth of Christ. As a Jew, I would happily support such a boycott. The nincompoops who would impose such a restriction deserve coal in their stockings at the very least. However, they have a right to have the parade they want, in accordance with the rules they want, free from interference by those who think they are a bunch of dopes, just as the government can't tell you whom to invite to Christmas dinner. That is an important right central to all our freedoms.

Posted by: Bart at December 11, 2004 2:44 PM

Bart: of course they have a right, but they're having a Hannukah Parade with no menorah, nothing Jewish, and no Jewishness allowed. You seem to abide this in the comfort of some small law while greater laws are trashed all about you.

Posted by: JimGooding at December 11, 2004 7:16 PM


If you're going to demand free speech for yourself, freedom of association for yourself, you have to be willing to grant them to others, or else just dispense with the notion that you live in a free society. People offended at the parades as presently constituted have a remedy without turning to governmentally-inspired prior restraint.

Posted by: Bart at December 12, 2004 3:24 AM

Bart: if there's an ACLU-protected Nazi parade in your neighborhood; you better damned well not stay in your study and tut-tut about your backward neighbors screaming at them from their porches. There are bigger laws that must be obeyed: allow them their march but make a damned racket, cause a problem; evil will use the right of free speech to destroy you. You go so quietly into this dark night!

Mullahs freely preach in this country that you, Bart, are not even a human being, that you make Passover bread with the blood of murdered Arab children, that you are less-than-a-dog. What do you think will be the product of that free speech?

Posted by: JimGooding at December 12, 2004 11:05 AM

Ridicule and ostracism, perhaps?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 12, 2004 2:30 PM

Jeff: no, the correct answer is "Crystalnacht."

The public square is where we can contest the speech, especially the hate speech, of others, in whatever form. Not suppress it, contest it. To leave that square naked is to abandon one's cultural responsibilities and to abdicate the community to the rule of those who show up for the contest.

Posted by: JimGooding at December 12, 2004 7:25 PM


It is infinitely better to permit the idiots to have their parade and then stage counter-protests at an appropriate time and place. Any prior restraint causes more problems than it solves, as the dreary European and Canadian experience with 'hate speech' legislation clearly shows. The same government that would bar a Nazi from marching up and down my street would keep a Baptist minister from telling his congregation that homosexuality is a sin.

Our protections lie elsewhere. If a Nazi wants to prance around for all to see, I'm fine with that. If he wants to start shooting at people, I'm all in favor of shooting back should the police fail to arrest him. If someone were to burn a cross on his own property, that is his business. If he came onto my property and burnt a cross on my lawn, he'd better have health and life insurance, because he will experience the business end of my 12 gauge.

In the marketplace of ideas, the vast majority of Americans are smart enough to reject the false nostrums of Nazism and Islam. We have not needed speech codes for over 2 centuries and we do not need them today. As long as we remember that the Constitution consists of more than just a right to free speech, but also various other freedoms, like property, religion and gun ownership, we'll be OK. As long as we understand that central principle of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence that you must not physically harm others' persons or property without legally appropriate justification, we'll be just fine. When ideologues of various kinds whether Nazis, Communists, religious goofballs or atheist nutbars forget this, we get into trouble.

The appropriate response in Denver is to have your own parade and to boycott the 'local business community' which started this travesty to begin with. Any 'local business community' with which I am familiar is interested in the bottom-line, and if they see their bottom-line affected, they'll cave pretty quick.

Posted by: Bart at December 13, 2004 7:12 AM