Santa. Jell-O. The Easter Bunny. Hot dogs. Leprechauns. Pierogis. Halloween.

These are American traditions, like Mom and apple pie, according to folks in Oak Lawn.

This is the reason people have gone to war and died, some people said.

I found myself watching in awe for more than two hours Tuesday night as one parent after another in Ridgeland School District 122 stood and spoke passionately about “American culture” and their efforts to preserve these things for their children.

A Muslim woman has apparently asked for equal treatment of her culture or as most of the Christian parents in the audience called it, “special treatment.”

Voices quivered with emotion as people talked of the importance of hot dogs, which because of their pork content lived under the threat of banishment from the school cafeteria for a brief time. Or at least that’s what people thought.

According to the District 122 superintendent, the dogs served in the cafeteria were made of turkey, which Ben Franklin once called the most American of birds. As a result, the dogs were never really facing a threat but may have been mentioned in a flier sent home to parents that mentioned a list of items that use pork and therefore no longer would be served.

One man, a Catholic, spoke of having to bring peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with him to a public school as a youth because he couldn’t eat meat on Fridays during Lent.

He proudly announced that neither he nor his parents sought special meals.

This, he said, is the American way.

Another woman announced that Easter is not a religious holiday but a secular event.

And there were eloquent speeches made in defense of Santa’s workshop, an annual holiday event where the PTA sells presents to students who want to buy a gift for Mom and Dad.

But it was Jell-O, that all-American dessert, that seemed to generate the greatest spiritual fervor among those in attendance.

Apparently, pork by-products are used in its production.

So someone ordered it banished from the school cafeteria.

The Muslim woman accused of being behind the banishment of Jell-O denied this. She also denied attacking Santa or the Easter bunny.

She contended that school officials took all of these actions in response to her request for equal treatment for Muslim students. About 30 percent of the school district is of Arab descent, but not all of those practice Islam.

The Muslim woman said she was also open-minded about cultural diversity. She proclaimed that she had even hung Christmas lights in the school during the holiday season one year. (MORE)


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