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City tells staff not to put up red, green Christmas displays; 'non-religious symbols' OK

iStock/Ridofranz
iStock/Ridofranz

A city in Wisconsin has been accused of censoring all displays and expressions of Christmas on government property, with a conservative law group arguing that such a policy is unlawful.

The law firm Liberty Counsel sent a letter of complaint to the city of Wauwatosa on Monday, alleging that officials told city employees they were forbidden to decorate their workspaces with religious Christmas displays.

The Christian Post reached out to city officials regarding the Liberty Counsel letter. A response was not provided by press time. 

According to the Liberty Counsel letter, a memo was sent via email by the city manager’s office asking departments to “refrain from using religious decorations or solely associated with Christmas (such as red and green colors) when decorating public spaces within city buildings.”

“Instead, we encourage you to opt for more neutral and inclusive decorations that celebrate the season without favoring any particular faith belief system,” continued the directive, as quoted by Liberty Counsel.

The suggestions given by the city manager’s office included “non-religious symbols associated with winter” such as snowflakes. The directive maintained that “festive lighting and greenery can create a warm and welcoming atmosphere without specific religious connotations.”

“By embracing inclusive decorating practices, we can reinforce our commitment to being a more equitable and welcoming place for all people who live in Wauwatosa, do business in our community, and our coworkers,” continued the office email, as quoted by Liberty Counsel.

The complaint letter denounced this directive, arguing that “employees may not be punished by the city for decorating for the holidays with religious significance such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.” Liberty Counsel asserted that “the Christmas
holiday ban violates the U.S. Constitution by showing hostility toward Christianity.”

“The First Amendment does not permit the City to eliminate Christmas holiday symbols or expression in a misguided attempt to be ‘inclusive’ by eliminating all traditional elements of expression regarding a federally and state recognized holiday,” continued the complaint letter. “The fact that City employees may decorate their spaces for the Christmas holiday does not necessarily transform their speech into government speech, simply by the fact that it takes place at City Hall.” 

The group proceeded to demand that city officials enact “the immediate retraction of the unconstitutional ban on Christmas holiday symbols.” The letter requested that the city issue a response by Nov. 24, vowing to take “additional action” to “prevent irreparable harm to cherished liberties” if it fails to do so. 

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said in a statement released Monday that he believed the “decoration ban by the city of Wauwatosa is Orwellian and unconstitutional.”

“The city’s ban is exclusive, not ‘inclusive.’ The ban excludes all those who celebrate the Christmas holiday consistent with their faith. How absurd is it to ban red and green during December? What were these city officials thinking?” asked Staver.

According to CBS affilaite WDJT, the city is saying that the internal memo was not intende dto be a requirement, but wanted employees to take others into xonsideration before decorating their spaces in tradiitonal holiday colors or religious themes. 

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