Lights in the shape of a tree in an upstairs unit at the Willows: A silent protest?
UPDATE: Apartment Manager Expresses Regret, Puts Tree Back – click [here].
Ground Zero in the so-called “war on Christmas” shifted Thursday from Santa Monica – where nativity displays are banned at a public park – to Valley Street in Newhall, where the managers of the Willows senior apartment complex ordered the removal of religious displays from common areas.
The 75 seniors who live in the complex are up in arms over the decision to remove their communal Christmas tree, according the Los Angeles Daily News, which broke the news Wednesday.
By Thursday morning the story had gone viral, and JB Partners Group, which purchased the property four years ago and manages it from its office in Tarzana, had pulled down its corporate website.
Rumors swirled Thursday that the company was buckling under all of the attention from bloggers and news commentators from coast to coast, but JB personnel weren’t answering their phones to confirm whether they’d given in.
“We’re all angry. We want that tree,” resident Fern Scheel told the Daily News. “Where’s our freedom? This is ridiculous.”
A new Facebook page called “Shame on JB Partners Owners of Willows Senior Apt want Xmas Tree Removed” popped up Thursday afternoon and had 70 “likes” in the first four hours. A protest is planned for Saturday when an impromptu group of carolers is expected to descend on the apartment complex.
Catholic Online, with a “targeted audience of over 100,000 Catholic users per day,” asked: “Who would be so dastardly as to deprive retirees, enjoying their golden years, the opportunity to celebrate Christmas? JB Partners Group Inc…”
Said msnNOW, which listed the story in its “What’s Trending” section: “Imagine ‘Red Dawn,’ but replace high school students with senior citizens, and swap out the freedom-denying Cubans/Russians/North Koreans for the powers that be at JB Partners Group.”
U.S. Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, whose district includes the Newhall apartment complex, called the company’s decision “an absolute outrage and another example of a sad, sad trend I see happening in America today.”
McKeon decried the restrictions placed on legislators, who are essentially barred from expressing holiday cheer for religiously affiliated events.
“In Congress, rules prohibit us from sending out any official form of communication to our constituents wishing them any sort of religious happy holiday greeting. We can’t say, Merry Christmas, we can’t say Happy Hanukkah, we can’t say anything that even alludes to a religious celebration or specific holiday greeting. We can’t even use the colors red and green,” McKeon said.
“On Monday night hundreds, of people gathered on the Capitol lawn as we lit the Capitol Christmas Tree, and tonight, millions will watch as the President lights our National Christmas Tree — a tradition of spirit and unity we have enjoyed for 90 years. Are these great American holiday traditions next to go? I understand that freedom of religion is a founding principle of our democracy, and that part of that freedom is the freedom to not believe in or practice a religious faith. But an abolition of every marker of the holiday season, no matter the religious affiliation, is an affront to our most sacred traditions and darkens what is supposed to be a time of thankfulness, giving, togetherness, peace, love, hope and reflection. These residents pay rent to a private entity and should have the freedom to practice the holiday traditions of their choice.”