Chicago officials ask holiday bazaar to nix movie about Jesus' birth
By Don Babwin, The Chicago Tribune, November 27, 2006
CHICAGO -- City officials sent a message to a movie studio that hoped to help sponsor a Christmas festival with advertising for its film about the night Mary and Joseph couldn't find a room at the inn: There's no room for you.
Worried that ads for "The Nativity Story" would offend non-Christians browsing in the traditional German Christkindlmarket in the heart of downtown, the city asked the German American Chamber of Commerce to reconsider New Line Cinema, which made the film, as a sponsor. The group then told the studio it would not be part of the bazaar that began Thursday.
The reasoning has at least one prominent Christian group, and the studio, shaking their heads.
"The last time I checked the first six letters of Christmas still spell out Christ," said Paul Braoudakis, communications director of the Barrington, Ill.-based Willow Creek Association, a group of more than 11,000 churches of various denominations.
"It's tantamount to celebrating Lincoln's birthday without talking about Abraham Lincoln," he said.
Besides, he said, there is a nativity scene on display at Daley Plaza, and some of the vendors sell items related to the nativity.
But city officials say advertising plans, including a loop of the new film that was to be played on televisions at the festival, might offend non-Christians.
"Our guidance was that this very prominently placed advertisement would not only be insensitive to the many people of different faiths who come to enjoy the market for its food and unique gifts, but also it would be contrary to acceptable advertising standards suggested to the many festivals holding events on Daley Plaza," Jim Law, executive director of the Mayor's Office of Special Events, said in a statement.
Cindy Gatziolis, a spokeswoman for the office, said the city does not want to appear to endorse one religion over another. While acknowledging that there is a nativity scene on the plaza, Gatziolis said there also will be representations of other faiths, including a Jewish menorah, all put up by private groups.
"We've worked hard to make sure there is a fair representation of all those faiths celebrating something special," said Gatziolis, who stressed the city did not order organizers not to allow the studio to be a sponsor. "If you add more for one faith over the others, it does tip the scale to that faith."
Officials with the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest, which has organized the event for several years, did not immediately return calls for comment.
An executive vice president with New Line Cinema said the studio's plan to spend $12,000 in Chicago was part of an advertising campaign around the country. Christina Kounelias said as far as she knew, the Chicago festival was the only instance where the studio was turned down.
Kounelias said she finds it hard to believe that non-Christians who attended something called Christkindlmarket would be surprised or offended by the presence of posters, brochures and other advertisements of the movie.
"One would assume that if (people) were to go to Christkindlmarket, they'd know it is about Christmas," she said.
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