The University of Minnesota has denied distributing a memo that proposed a ban on Christmas displays, including nativity scenes, angels and even Santa Claus.
Campus Reform reported on Dec. 15 that an academic department at the university had distributed a guideline that discouraged a host of holiday practices, including the display of numerous items such as "Santa Claus, Angels, Christmas trees, Star of Bethlehem, Dreidels, [and the] Nativity scene."
The guidelines encouraged school employees "to recognize holidays in ways that are respectful of the diversity of our community," and asked them to "[c]onsider neutral-themed parties such as 'winter celebration.'"
Employees and student workers were also asked to report bias incidents of "inappropriate religious celebrations" in their work or learning environment to the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action.
The handout also stated that parties should not feature the colors red and green due to its connection with the Christmas tradition.
The document reportedly originated from the school's College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources Sciences (CFANS). Susan Thurston Hamerski, media contact for CFANS, told Campus Reform at the time that the guidelines were intended to be used for conversations among faculty and staff. She further noted that the document was "not policy" and "not for distribution."
Becket, a religious liberty law firm, condemned the memo and bestowed the department with an Ebenezer Award, the "lowest (dis)honor, awarded for the most ridiculous affront to the Christmas and Hanukkah season."
A university official has since clarified that the document does not represent a policy of the school and denounced it as an "ill-advised" memo from "one individual that was not distributed broadly."
"The document in question was created by one individual as part of a session for a segment of employees within one area of the University. It was not provided by, reviewed by, or approved by the University of Minnesota; the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences; or the University's Office of Equity and Diversity," the university official stressed.
The religious liberty law firm Liberty Counsel has launched its 15th annual Friend or Foe Christmas this year in an attempt to ensure that Christmas displays are not censored. The organization provides a memorandum to advise to public officials and schools regarding religious displays on public property.
The Liberty Counsel memo states that publicly sponsored Nativity scenes are allowed on public property if it is accompanied by a secular symbol. Privately sponsored nativity scenes or other religious displays are also allowed on public property that has been opened to the general public for expressive activity, and no secular symbol is necessary in the context of private speech on public property, the memo claims.