Parents in New York and Oregon recently voiced their disagreement with school officials who banned Christmas trees and Santa Claus displays because the decorations supposedly promotion Christianity.
In the East Syracuse-Minoa School District in New York, parents received a letter dated Dec. 3 that announced an upcoming special holiday program. The letter noted that the program seeks to respect the diverse heritage and beliefs of families and therefore will restrict “programs that involve singular traditions” to occur outside of regular school hours. These programs, while allowed to take place on school campuses, must also be voluntary and cannot be sponsored by the school district.
One parent, Patti Puma, whose four children attend schools in the district, asked Deputy Superintendent Dr. Thomas Neveldine about the new restriction. According to Christian legal group Liberty Counsel, Neveldine reportedly said that Santa Claus, who is a decidedly secular symbol, is not allowed on campus because he originated from the story about St. Nicholas.
Concerned parents and citizens plan to address the local school board this coming Monday and argue against the Christmas restrictions. The parents have also started a petition that requests the return of Christmas celebrations.
Meanwhile, in Oregon, Principal Michelle Zundel of Bellview Elementary School in Ashland removed a Christmas tree and Santa Claus from the school over Thanksgiving break and replaced them with two snowmen. According to reports, Zundel said some parents had complained about the tree, which also had tags that suggested donating gifts to needy children.
“The Christmas tree, while a secular symbol according to the Supreme Court, does symbolize Christmas, and if you are entering a public school and your family does not celebrate Christmas, then it feels like a religious symbol,” said Zundel, according to Liberty Counsel. “A snowman is created by children at play in the snow, and so it doesn't have a particular religious bent.”
In response to Zundel’s actions, dozens of upset parents protested the removal of the Christmas giving tree, prompting Zundel to bring it back on Wednesday.
"The issue about whether to have a tree or not to have a tree is settled," Zundel said at a community meeting Tuesday night, according to the Ashland Daily Tidings. "We will have a tree."
Zundel said she changed her mind after hearing that hundreds of people across the nation complained about her decision.
“Perhaps educators ought to check out the name of the holiday they enjoy on December 25,” commented Mathew D. Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, in a statement Wednesday. “Wouldn't someone with a little common sense understand it’s okay to celebrate both the secular and religious aspects of Christmas?”
Liberty Counsel has joined with Christian Educators Association International for the seventh annual Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign, which seeks to educate and, if necessary, litigate to make sure religious viewpoints regarding Christmas are not censored.
“Censoring only the religious viewpoint of Christmas, or pretending like Christmas does not exist, reveals hostility toward religion, which the Constitution forbids," Staver maintained.