The “war on Christmas” has claimed its latest victims: A Jewish family accused of getting an elementary school’s Christmas play canceled.
The saga began after parents of students at Centerville Elementary School near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, told local ABC News affiliate WHTM that the school’s annual production of A Christmas Carol had been called off this year after a pair of parents complained about the line “God bless us, everyone!”
However, the parents say they never complained, and the school’s principal, Tom Kramer, wrote in an FAQ to parents that the play was canceled because of “the amount of instructional time that this non-curricular activity had grown to require.”
“There was no complaint. Questions were asked about play processes and procedures,” Kramer wrote on Dec. 21. “The decision had nothing to do with a religious concern; rather, the decision was made due to the amount of instructional time that this non-curricular activity had grown to require.”
The story was picked up by Fox News radio host and commentator Todd Starnes on Dec. 18, who echoed and expanded upon the Dec. 15 WHTM report about the allegedly complaining parents. Breitbart News, the conservative “alt-right” outlet that entered the national spotlight thanks to its connections to President-elect Donald Trump‘s campaign, picked up the story from Fox News.
Neither WHTM, Fox News, nor Breitbart named the parents accused of complaining about the play. However, according to Lancaster Online, which spoke to the unnamed parents accused of complaining, the family left Lancaster County after seeing comments on Breitbart calling for their address to be published online.
At the time of publication, the address of the school and Kramer’s email address remain posted in the Breitbart story’s comment section. The comments also contain calls to “name the parents,” whom countless commenters assumed were Muslim and spoke about with anger and suggestions of violence. A spokesperson for the Hempfield School District told Lancaster Online that they received at least 200 emails and phone calls because of the story.
“There’s no way we’re going to take a chance after the pizza incident,” one of the parents told Lancaster Online, referencing the man who fired a gun in a pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C., after he went there to investigate the unsubstantiated Pizzagate rumor. Pizzagate believers speculate that high-level Democrats run a child sex-slave ring out of a pizza restaurant. The man who fired the gun, Edgar M. Welch, said he was “self-investigating” the theory.
The family later told the Anti-Defamation League that the Lancaster Online report mischaracterized their leaving town as them fleeing, and that they had already planned to leave on vacation.
The parents say they hope they can return home and that their kids can continue to attend Centerville Elementary.
Clarification: The Anti-Defamation League spoke with the unnamed family at the center of the Christmas play controversy and said the family left on a pre-planned vacation. The Lancaster Online report that characterized them as “fleeing” is “untrue and damaging,” said ADL Regional Director Nancy Baron-Baer. She told Slate that the report was overall accurate, but the word “fled” overstated the situation. We have updated our headline to align with what the parents told the ADL.