Thursday, December 02, 2004

Chicken shop welcomes back Jesus

Australian conservatives win a round. Marvellous what happens when loss of business is involved

A fast food chain yesterday admitted it was overzealous in its pursuit of political correctness when it banned one of its Sydney stores from displaying a traditional Christmas nativity scene. Last Thursday, Westfield Hornsby Oporto franchise owner Charlie Saliba was told to remove his nativity scene - depicting baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the Three Wise Men and a shepherd - for fear it would offend non-Christian customers. Mr Saliba, a Catholic, said: "I am Maltese and we are very much into our Christmas decorations ... they told me take it down and I thought it was a shame because, without a nativity scene, it's not Christmas. "I've been putting the nativity scene up for the past 3 1/2 years and have not had one complaint. I have had a lot of compliments."

Oporto chief executive Jeff Fisher had previously told The Daily Telegraph the chain supported generic decorations over nativity scenes because Australia was a multicultural society and it would be wrong to push any one religious belief. Mr Fisher was singing a different tune yesterday after a wave of public opinion. "The issue [of the nativity scene] is obviously something the community feels very strongly about," he said. "We have listened to the community and corrected the situation. "We are guilty of being over-sensitive by wanting to keep the decorations to a general nature. We tried to be politically correct and that was overzealous."

Yesterday morning the nativity scene, which cost $500 to construct, was returned to its pride of place next to the shop's second most sacred object: the chip machine. Regular customer Noreen Dillon, 65, said it was good to see sanity prevail. "I think sometimes people are afraid of upsetting minority groups, who in reality don't care about the nativity scenes anyway," the Wahroonga resident said. "I have Muslim neighbours and they wish me a happy Christmas so what's the big deal?"

Mr Saliba who said Muslim and Jewish staff had not complained about the nativity scene and were happy to have it in the store. Keysar Trad, a director of the Australian Lebanese Muslim Association, said Muslims would have no objection to nativity scenes. "We celebrate the life of Christ and see him as one of the five greatest people who ever lived and a prophet of God," he said.

Westfield public relations manager Julia Clark said most of the company's shopping centres had nativity scenes. The only two without were because of space, she said. Even Bankstown Square, amid a large population of non-Christian backgrounds, has a nativity scene.



The American Family Association is encouraging its supporters to do their holiday shopping someplace other than Target this year after the retail giant announced it will no longer allow Salvation Army bell ringers to collect Kettle Drive donations in front of its stores. Target Corp.'s decision to apply its "no solicitation" policy to The Salvation Army was announced in January this year. The statement said, "We receive an increasing number of solicitation inquiries from nonprofit organizations each year and determined that if we continue to allow The Salvation Army to solicit, then it opens the door to other groups that wish to solicit our guests." Target Corp. has over 1,000 outlets.

According to AFA Action Alert e-mail, "Target's new policy is opposite of that with community-minded giants like Wal-Mart, J.C. Penney's, and Big Lots. They believe the Salvation Army serves a critical need by offering kindness to a family in need," said Don Wildmon, founder of AFA. Wildmon urged readers to contact the Target customer service and also the manager of their local Target store to tell them they will be doing their shopping at Wal-Mart, J.C. Penney's, and Big Lots.

Nearly a tenth of the $90 million the Salvation Army earned through the 2003 holiday appeal was donated to kettles at Target stores. At Wal-Mart stores, the Army received $14 million in kettle donations. "We do welcome them in front of our stores," said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Amy Campbell in a Pittsburgh Tribune Review article. "We've always had a great relationship with them."

But kettle donations this year will be affected from Target's decision to close its doors. "We're going to lose 112 days of food service for the hungry because of [Target's] decision," Russ Russell, Salvation Army executive director for development told The Detroit News.

The Salvation Army officially launched its national Kettle Drive during the half-time show of the Dallas Cowboys' Thanksgiving game. Kettle donations benefit local chapters of the Salvation Army.



Because only believers would understand what was banned anyway. I think I know a lot about religion but it meant nothing to me. So the REAL motive of the ban has to be opposition to Christianity. And the claim that an obscure religious reference would be offensive to people who see every day on their coins "In God we trust" is an excuse that is worthy only of a four-year-old

Pat Jameson is a stay-at-home mom who never imagined she would be at odds with the state of Vermont. But that's exactly what happened when she applied for her first personalized plate after buying her first brand new car. Her request: "SHJ with a space BVM." The initials might not mean much to most, but for Jameson-- a devout Catholic-- it meant a lot. "Which stands for Sacred heart of Jesus, blessed virgin Mary," explains Jameson. "The only ones it would mean anything to are catholics and it would be the older generation catholics, probably 50 and above."

She applied and when asked on the form explained exactly what the initials stood for. "There was no idea in my mind that they would not be approved." Three weeks after Pat Jameson applied her license plates arrived in the mail. But when she opened them they read DSY 204. "My first reaction was I was sent someone elses license plates by accident," she says. But the plate was hers. Jameson called the DMV who said her requested license plate was denied because of its religious reference. "It should have been denied," says DMV Commissioner Bonnie Rutledge.

Under the law, DMV can deny personalized plates it they are vulgar or refer to religion, race or drugs. Rutledge says even though SHJ BVM may not be recognizable as religious to some, it still is, and the department is on solid legal ground to deny it. "The law is specific in that I have to deny it because it might be offensive to some people out there," explains Rutledge.

"I guess you would have to say there is a draw line somewhere, but to be so (politically correct) nowadays is getting out of hand," says Jameson.


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