As prominent Christian conservatives decry the supposed “war on Christmas” and retailers grapple with whether to say “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas” to their customers, a small incident at the Mall of America has sparked right-wing attention in such high places as Sean Hannity’s website.
When a recent kid’s meal at Long John Silver’s came with a small coloring notebook bearing Bible verses and the words “Build with Jesus,” a Muslim family became upset.
The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) wrote a letter to the the franchise owner and the parent company of the restaurant franchise on behalf of the family, earning ridicule and derision from a multitude of right-wing posts and anti-Islam sites.
A lot of blog comments have used words like “hypersensitive” to describe the family and CAIR-MN’s complaint. That may be a valid description, but then the term should apply equally to Bill O’Reilly’s tirades against the “war on Christmas” and to Focus on the Family’s angry response when stores remove the phrase “Merry Christmas” from their holiday publicity.
And Muslims may have a bit more reason to feel defensive. Sean Hannity’s website is polling its readers about the Mall of America case, asking, “Does CAIR have a valid complaint?” One of the multiple-choice options is “ala akBARF,” a rude reference to the common Muslim phrase “Allahu Akbar,” which is Arabic for “God is great.”
Below that, in the comment section, various readers insult the Quran or talk about Muslims wanting “to detsroy [sic] our way of life,” while other sites accuse CAIR of trying to impose Shariah law on the Mall of America.
Closer to home, fortunately, the argument is much more civil. Steve Oborn, who owns the Long John Silver’s Mall of America location where the incident occurred, wrote an apology to the family and was sending them a non-religious toy.
“Our policy is always that we have an alternative toy,” he said Monday in a phone interview. (That is consistent with the chain’s national policy.) “The problem was, whoever happened to wait on them wasn’t aware of [the policy] or possibly didn’t have any of the other toys left.”
According to CAIR-MN’s press release, when the parents discovered the toy, they went up to the counter to exchange it but were told that their only other options were similar notebooks with alternate Bible quotes.
CAIR-MN’s board chair Lori Saroya said Monday she hadn’t yet heard that the owner planned to apologize.
When the incident happened in November, CAIR sent a letter to Oborn and to Yum! Brands Inc., the Louisville, Ky.-based company that owns the Long John Silver’s brand, as well as KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. When there was no immediate response, Saroya said, CAIR on Friday sent a release to the media. “Last we heard, they [Yum! Brands] were investigating,” she said.
But Yum! had nothing to do with the free toy promotion, according to Oborn. It was his own initiative at his own store. “My wife and I both feel that the Bible promotes good, wholesome values,” he said. “We just felt this was a wholesome thing to hand out.”
But he always intended to have alternatives for non-Christian customers, he said.
Saroya said she’s gotten a lot of emails in response to the press release — about three-fourths of them positive; the rest were hate mail. The positive responses were mostly from the local general community, she said, while the hate mail tended to be from out of state.