POLITICS
12/22/2016 01:09 pm ET | Updated Dec 23, 2016

Jewish Family Fears For Safety After Conservative Media Blames Them For Christmas Play Cancellation (UPDATE)

The school says it absolutely did not cancel the production because of religious complaints.

Diane Macdonald/Getty Images
The parents of a fifth grader say that they never asked for the play to be canceled or complained about it; they simply asked for their child to be excused and were told that was fine.

A Jewish family in Pennsylvania says it fears for its safety after media outlets across the country ran stories blaming them for the cancellation of a Christmas play.

Local station WHTM reported last week that Centerville Elementary School in Lancaster decided not to put on its production of “A Christmas Carol” this year after two parents complained to the them about the famous line, “God bless us, everyone.” The school had been doing the play for more than 40 years. 

But the controversy really took off after conservative outlets including Fox News, Breitbart News and The Blaze picked up the report and gave it national attention.

WHTM said school officials told the news outlet the play was not canceled because of complaints about that line, although “many parents” believed it was so. 

The Fox News commentary piece framed the controversy as part of the so-called “war on Christmas.” “[T]his year, I’m afraid Tiny Tim’s goose has been cooked by the Ghost of Christmas Intolerance,” the article stated. 

But the Hempfield School District has vehemently denied this account of why it canceled the play, and a Jewish family that says it’s being blamed for the controversy has left the area, according to LancasterOnline. The earlier articles did not identify the family as Jewish or name them, and later reports said the family had just gone on vacation.

The parents of a fifth grader in the district told LancasterOnline that they never asked for the play to be canceled or complained about it; they simply asked for their child to be excused and were told that was fine.

But they said since the school announced the cancellation last month, classmates had harassed their child. And after the story broke nationally, the school said it received at least 200 phone calls and emails about the play.

The family said they were disturbed by some of the comments on the conservative outlets’ stories ― including one on the Breitbart story asking for information about the family’s address.

And after a fake news story created an uproar over a pizza place in Washington, D.C. ― which resulted in a man coming in with an assault rifle to “self-investigate” whether there truly was a child sex ring there ― the family said they were afraid for their safety.

“There’s no way we’re going to take a chance after the pizza incident,” said the parents, who were not named by LancasterOnline. 

But on Thursday night, after the LancasterOnline article was widely circulated, the Anti-Defamation League posted a statement saying that it had contacted the family and that it was incorrect to say they had fled the area. 

“We spoke with the family, who explained that they went on a previously-planned vacation for the holidays,” said ADL Regional Director Nancy Baron-Baer. “Stories like this can sow fear in the Jewish community and beyond, and it is important to stop the spread of misinformation.”

Rabbi Jack Paskoff, of a Lancaster reform synagogue, told The Washington Post that although the family are not members of his congregation, he had been in regular touch with them. The child, he said, was being taunted on the bus about the play’s cancellation.

“It was getting prevalent enough that the family got concerned,” he said.

The Hempfield School District has backed up the family’s account. Officials have posted a FAQ sheet on its website and said the play was absolutely not canceled because of complaints over the “God bless us” line. Instead, they dropped the play because it consumed too much instructional time in the classroom. From the FAQ sheet: 

Hempfield School District

The school said the principal also offered to work with parents and staff who were interested in producing the play during after-school hours, but “no one was either able or interested to assist with producing the play after school hours.”

“Had the primary concern been with the content of the play,” the school added, “possibilities for continuing the play would not have been sought by Mr. Kramer.”

Fox News has long promoted the notion that there’s a war on Christmas (and even a war on Easter). For more than a decade, host Bill O’Reilly has been a leading voice in network commentators’ fomentation that Christians are under attack over political correctness because people say “Happy holidays,” remove nativity scenes from public buildings or do anything to acknowledge that there are people of other religions in America. 

But even Fox, it seems, isn’t always on the right side.

This story has been updated with the ADL’s statement and comments from a local rabbi.

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