For the second time in a decade, a small but vociferous group is working to remove the word “Christmas” from the title of the annual La Jolla Christmas Parade and (subsequently added) Holiday Festival.
The group voiced its concern during the public comment period of San Diego’s Human Relations Commission (HRC) in September, and was placed on the HRC’s Oct. 16 meeting agenda.
Led by La Jolla Town Council trustee Howard Singer, the group told the commission it feels the word “Christmas” references the Dec. 25 celebration observing the birth of Jesus Christ and could cause Jews, Muslims and people of other faiths (as well as atheists and agnostics), to feel excluded from the nonprofit community event (formerly under the auspices of the La Jolla Town Council).
The 15-member HRC was formed to “conduct and promote activities that foster mutual respect and understanding; protect basic human and civil rights; and create an atmosphere that promotes amicable relations among all members of the community.”
Chief Deputy City Attorney Karen Li began the meeting by offering an overview of the city’s special event permit regulations.
Li said the special events ordinance is largely geared toward assuring public safety and health and that “everyone can participate.”
Singer noted that the names of most local events that formerly included the word “Christmas” have since been changed, including “holiday” parades in Encinitas, Pacific Beach and Ocean Beach (formerly dubbed “Christmas” parades) and December Nights in Balboa Park (formerly known as “Christmas on the Prado”).
HRC Executive Director Danell Scarborough referenced this “evolution in the community.”
Though there are clear laws and guidelines about what is permissible in schools and the workplace when it comes to religious observances, she said when it comes to community events it is still a “gray area.”
“The balancing act between respecting First Amendment rights and … freedom of religion … and evolving toward respect, inclusion and inclusive activities for our community (is) still unfolding — and we’re participating in the unfolding of that,” Scarborough said. “Sometimes they seem mutually exclusive. That is our great joy, and our great challenge.”
The event, including required city permits and police presence, is paid for by private citizens, noted Debbie Allen, a name-change proponent and president of the San Diego Chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.
“There is nothing illegal about the La Jolla Christmas Parade. This is no longer a government sponsored event; expenses are covered by donors, rather than taxpayer dollars,” she said.
“However, I do think it naïve to think that taxpayers do not contribute to the infrastructure within the community that allows the event to take place.”
Allen underscored how she feels use of “Christmas” in the event name — as well as this year’s theme, “Christmas in the Surf and Sand” — can cause people to feel excluded.