Becket Fund gives 'Ebenezer Award' to US county for banning Christian, Jewish displays during holidays
A religious liberty advocacy organization has awarded one of the largest counties in the United States its “Ebenezer of the Year Award” for banning employees from displaying religious items in video calls and common areas during the Christmas season.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty announced Tuesday that King County, Washington, the 13th most populous county in the U.S. and home to the state’s largest city of Seattle, received its Ebenezer Award for implementing “Guidelines for Holiday Decorations.”
The guidelines prohibit county employees from displaying religious items associated with Christmas and Hanukkah such as Nativity sets and menorahs as well as religious symbols, including the Star of David and the crucifix in their common work areas and virtual work spaces.
The word Ebenezer refers to the first name of the character Ebenezer Scrooge from the book, A Christmas Carol. Scrooge was well-known for his hatred of Christmas and signature phrase, “Bah humbug.”
A King County memo obtained by Seattle radio host Jason Rantz informed county employees that “displays of religious symbols may only be displayed in an employee’s personal workspace.” It stated that “religious symbols should not be displayed in or as a background to an employee’s virtual work space.”
Gloria Ngezaho, the Workforce Equity Manager for King County’s Department of Human Resources, wrote the memo. He also warned that religious displays in common areas “may cause disruption to co-workers or members of the public that do not share that particular religion.”
“Some employees may not share your religion, practice any religion, or share your enthusiasm for holiday decorations. Displays of religious symbols may only be displayed in an employee’s personal workspace,” the memo added.
The Christian Post reached out to King County for comment. A response was not received by press time.
Becket COO and Executive Director Montse Alvarado said in a statement shared with CP that “Religious employees of King County will likely feel like the ransacked residents of Whoville this Christmas and Hanukkah season. The government has no right to rob its employees of holiday cheer by forcing them to take down their Nativity sets and menorahs, particularly in their own homes.”
Becket asserted that there is a “proper role of government in religious displays,” stating that “because religious holidays are an important part of human culture, governments are allowed to recognize and celebrate those holidays with appropriate symbols.” The advocacy organization further noted that “the Supreme Court has long upheld government holiday displays that send ‘a message of pluralism and freedom of belief during the holiday season,’ including displays that have distinctive religious elements.”
“This is the time of year that Americans ought to come together in the spirit of Christmas to support one another and spread joy and hope,” Alvarado concluded. “But as always, there are bureaucrats like those in King County that scrub religion out of the holiday season. Let’s hope their hearts grow a few sizes this Christmas.”
The Ebenezer Award is part of Becket’s annual examination of “the most absurd affronts to the Christmas and Hanukkah Season” that is reserved for “the most scandalous holiday season transgressor.”
Previous Ebenezer Award winners include the atheist organization Freedom From Religion Foundation, which successfully convinced a Kansas school district to end its partnership with the faith-based charity Samaritan’s Purse to send Christmas gifts to needy children abroad, and the state of Rhode Island’s “holiday tree.”
In addition to the Ebenezer Award, Becket handed out an Eggnog Toast to the Dedham Public Library in Dedham, Massachusetts. The Eggnog Toast is designated for “an individual or group who avoided a group visit from the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.” This recognition illustrates another homage to the plot line of A Christmas Carol, which features three ghosts who appear to Scrooge in an effort to get him to change his ways.
Becket awarded the Dedham Public Library in Dedham, Massachusetts its annual Eggnog Toast after the library reversed its decision to refrain from displaying a Christmas tree due to concerns that it might make people “uncomfortable.” “Although library officials initially erred in their judgment, we salute them for turning their hearts back towards holiday cheer!”
The Becket Fund is not the only advocacy group to use references to A Christmas Carol to single out King County over its efforts to restrict the display of religious symbols. The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, formerly known as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, identified King County as the “First Amendment Scrooge of 2022,” contending that the rules laid out in the memo run afoul of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
In a response email to FIRE supporters, hundreds of whom wrote to King County urging the reversal of its holiday display policy, James Bush of the King County Executive’s Office stood by the move to restrict religious displays.
“While this policy requests employees to be sensitive regarding the religious beliefs of others, it allows the display of both holiday themed decorations and religious symbols in an employee’s personal workspace (a workspace/office/cubicle used by a single employee and not generally accessible to the public),” Bush wrote. “It also allows for non-religious winter holiday symbols (wreaths, pine trees, lights, holly, snowflakes) to be displayed in common areas within work units, such as breakrooms, conference rooms, and reception areas.”
According to Bush, “These guidelines, which were originally drafted several years ago, are intended to avoid any situation where King County would appear to favor any particular religion. They are content-neutral and do not violate the First Amendment rights of employees.”
King County is one of the most Democratic counties in the United States. It gave President Joe Biden nearly 75% of the vote in the 2020 presidential election, while his Republican opponent, former President Donald Trump, received just over 22% of the vote.
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org