School official: Remove 'Christmas' from tree-lighting flier

MARLBOROUGH, N.H. (AP) — An American Legion post commander said he was offended that a new school superintendent asked him to replace "Christmas" with "holiday" on fliers advertising a tree-lighting ceremony.

John Fletcher, a 72-year-old barber in Marlborough who plays Santa Claus at the ceremony, says he has distributed similar fliers to the local school district for years.

"I was not going to put 'holiday' on it because the more I thought of it, it's a Christmas tree, not a holiday tree. There's a difference," Fletcher said Wednesday. "You want to put a holiday tree up, put it up on any of the holidays during the year. But this is a Christmas tree."

Fletcher's wife whited-out "Christmas" on 250 fliers distributed to schools in two towns — but didn't add the word "holiday" for the Dec. 6 event sponsored by the American Legion and the Monadnock Lions club.

Superintendent Robert Malay said in a statement to The Associated Press that public school districts are constitutionally barred from aiding, promoting or endorsing a religious activity. He said the school board can grant exceptions to the policy but that an appeal had not been filed in this instance.

Fletcher, who chose not to appeal, said he first learned of the wording request in a phone call from the superintendent's office shortly after Veterans Day. He said it made him think about how some veterans paid the ultimate price for defending freedom of speech.

In an editorial Wednesday, The New Hampshire Union Leader referred to Malay as "the Grinch of Cheshire County" and said he made a bad decision "that we wouldn't touch with a 39-and-a-half foot pole."

Fletcher said Malay called him Tuesday to apologize for offending him, but said he had a decision to make.

"It was very pleasant and cordial," Fletcher said. "But we agreed to disagree."