School officials at Western Piedmont Community College in North Carolina have put "Christmas" back in the name of a student club's fundraising tree sale after previously calling the event a "Holiday Tree Sale." The college made the change on Wednesday after receiving a letter from a religious freedom law group Tuesday that defended the students' constitutional right to reference the Christian holiday.
"Referring to Christmas trees as 'Christmas trees' is perfectly acceptable and constitutional," said Matt Sharp, Legal Counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom. "We commend WPCC officials for doing the right thing in working speedily to correct this problem, and we hope other schools in similar situations will follow their example."
The administration at the small community college in western North Carolina replaced the word "Christmas" with "holiday" in a student club's announcement of the Christmas tree sale, and originally defended the move by saying, "We cannot market your trees in association solely with a Christian event," according to ADF.
However, ADF responded by sending a letter to the college pointing out that it had violated the constitutional rights of the club.
"It's ridiculous that anyone would have to think twice about using the word 'Christmas' as part of a Christmas tree sale," said Sharp. "Not only is it perfectly constitutional to use the word 'Christmas,' it is unconstitutional to prohibit use of it. This is another perfect example of the immense misunderstanding that far too many college officials have about what the First Amendment truly requires."
The student-led BEST Society is sponsoring the sale, which ends on Dec. 6. The club completed the necessary paperwork to have the event announced through numerous means on campus. The text they requested, "The BEST Society will be selling Christmas Trees," appeared correctly initially in late October, but after a few days, the text was changed to "The BEST Society will be selling Holiday Trees," according to ADF.
"As a result of this forced changed to their advertisements," the ADF letter explained, "the BEST Society has received complaints from community members, several of whom have indicated that they will not purchase trees from the group because of the change in wording. This has resulted in direct harm to the club's fundraising activity, the proceeds of which are being used to support Angel Tree, an organization that provides Christmas gifts to children."
On Wednesday the college, located in Morgantown, returned the club's original wording to the announcements wherever they appear and no legal action against the college is expected.
Incidents such as the college's removal of "Christmas" have been tagged over the last several years as the "war on Christmas," a type of cultural debate in the U.S. where displays of the Christian holiday in the public square have been met with disapproval by primarily atheist groups. Although the activists often cite a "separation of church and state" clause in the Constitution as a defense for their reasoning, many legal experts say that their interpretation is a misnomer. The clause was meant to prevent enforcement of a particular religion and not the exclusion of public expression of faith.