A Lawsuit Threat Is Gone and Christmas Trees Return

December 13, 2006

Author: William Yardley

Source: The New York Times


SEATTLE, Dec. 12 -- Fourteen Christmas trees that were abruptly sent to storage on Friday were back on display Tuesday in the main terminal of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, neither taller nor brighter than they had been before but clearly drawing more attention.

“I saw people taking pictures,” said Mark Reis, director of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, referring to the largest tree, which received finishing touches on Tuesday and is on display in the airy south terminal. “I guess they wanted to say they saw THE tree. I guess it’s gotten its level of notoriety.”

On Friday, faced with the threat of a lawsuit when it refused to add a menorah to its annual holiday display, the airport removed all 14 trees overnight.

The move, intended to avoid controversy, stoked it instead.

By early Saturday, television news crews were filming the untrimming, and a holiday-season debate over religion and free speech inevitably took shape. At Chabad-Lubavitch in Seattle, the Jewish Orthodox educational group that had asked the airport to add the menorah, hate messages soon flooded e-mail inboxes. The group, which had never asked for the trees to be removed, was accused by some of trying to steal Christmas. It quickly dropped its talk of a lawsuit and joined those asking the airport to bring back the trees. That, the airport said, freed it to put them back up.

“By no means did we want to take away any religious symbols or trees from any other culture,” said Elazar Bogomilsky, the Chabad rabbi who is listed as the lead plaintiff on a draft lawsuit that has not been filed.