Friday, December 26, 2008

Birthday Cake Creates Furor

Birthday Cake Creates Furor
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
December 26, 2008

At what point do the lines between censorship, free speech and the concept of the customer is always right get blurred? That question was put to the test about a week before Christmas of all times.

Heath and Deborah Campbell, residents of Hunterdon County in south Jersey, were thwarted in their attempts to procure a decorated birthday cake for their three-year-old son from a ShopRite Supermarket in Greenwich, NJ. Apparently this is the third year in a row that the supermarket rejected the request.

The furor stems from the fact that the boy’s name is Adolf Hitler Campbell. At least this year the request for the named cake was toned down to not include the swastika the Campbells asked for in previous years. "We reserve the right not to print anything on the cake that we deem to be inappropriate," ShopRite spokeswoman Karen Meleta said. "We considered this inappropriate."

In order to purchase the desired cake the Campbells actually had to cross the Delaware River and conduct their business with a Pennsylvania Wal-Mart. Now, before anyone decides to boycott Wal-Mart, the store simply honored a paying customer’s request for a birthday cake with their son’s name iced on to the dessert. Nobody asked for the cake to be put on display in the bakery’s window and as soon as the cake was iced it could have been boxed with the name “Campbell” written atop for the parents to pick up when ready.

Sure, there’s a principle involved in the action taken by ShopRite, but where is the line drawn regarding what is or is not appropriate and who has the privilege of making such a decision? The Greenwich ShopRite is much closer to Philadelphia than New York. Could the bakery manager unilaterally determine a cake that said “Let’s Go Mets” be “inappropriate” because he or she is a Phillies fan? Could a cake congratulating Barack Obama for a customer’s inauguration party be deemed inappropriate if the bakery manager supported John McCain?

Make no mistake, I do not in any way, shape or form endorse the name chosen by the parents with which they saddled their child. A strong case could be made that such a moniker is a form of child abuse. One can only imagine the treatment and ridicule this child will be exposed to in school. Heath Campbell said he named his son after Adolf Hitler because he liked the name and because "no one else in the world would have that name." Campbell said his ancestors are German and that he has lived his entire life in Hunterdon County. Amazingly, both Heath, 35, and his wife Deborah, 25, expressed shock and surprise with the intolerance to which they claim they have been subjected, as well as the numerous angry postings on various internet sites directed toward the couple. Shocked? Surprised? What a couple of morons.

"I think people need to take their heads out of the cloud they've been in and start focusing on the future and not on the past," Heath Campbell said in an interview conducted in Easton, PA. "There's a new president and he says it's time for a change; well, then it's time for a change. They need to accept a name. A name's a name. The kid isn't going to grow up and do what Hitler did." Although Campbell claims no racial animus toward any group, he said he was raised to avoid people of other races and neither mix with, or get romantically involved with them. Quite frankly, the schools he attends should keep a close watch on this child. His name is just begging to keep him from making friends or getting dates. What parent wants their daughter coming home with Adolf Hitler Campbell.

Meanwhile, business is business, and Wal-Mart should not be chided for accepting the business of the Campbell family. It’s not up to Wal-Mart or ShopRite, for that matter, to determine the appropriateness of a person’s legally given name. The child will have enough problems later in life with which to battle. After all, what law firm, accounting firm or medical practice wants the name Adolf Hitler Campbell on its door, letterhead or website as a partner? Sure, his last name is Campbell, but what about when people see his full name on the diploma while I the waiting room? And, of course, there’s no way on earth young Mr. Adolf Hitler Campbell could ever get elected to anything – ever, no matter how good his ideas are or how well he presents them. Don’t forget serial killers, sociopaths, psychopaths and the infamous are typically tri-named: Lee Harvey Oswald, John Wayne Gacy, John Wilkes Booth, Jim Guy Tucker, James Earl Ray, Mark David Chapman, John Walker Lindh, John Allen Muhammad and Anna Nicole Smith, just to name a few. I’m not crazy about Philip Seymour Hoffman, Hillary Rodham Clinton, or Tommy Lee Jones, either, for that matter.

Sympathy for the child, yes; he is but three years of age. Hopefully he won’t be too damaged by the time he is old enough to either legally change his name if he so chooses or at the very least drop the middle name. A rose by any other name may still smell just as sweet, to paraphrase Billy Shakespeare, but not when its parents name it Adolf Hitler Campbell.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and political consultant living in Alexandria, VA.