SWOSU "Christmas" ban update

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Thursday, it was reported that employees at Southwestern Oklahoma State University (SWOSU) were banned from using the word Christmas. Here's the latest statement from SWOSU president John Hays on the matter:

Update: No Ban on Christmas December 21, 2007

After the stories about Christmas were published stating that Southwestern Oklahoma State University banned the word 'Christmas' or Christmas decorations, I made inquiries to discover if there was any basis to the reports. The university does not have a policy that bans the word 'Christmas' or Christmas decorations. However, some supervisors or department leaders within the university who meant well may have suggested to employees that caution should be taken with respect to Christmas decorations. One thing led to another and the result was that some mistakenly assumed that Christmas decorations were being prohibited. I have met with various staff members to get to the bottom of the matter and have also had a pleasant discussion with Mathew Staver, Founder of Liberty Counsel.

The university will continue to follow the law and to respect the right of all its staff members. Thus, the university will follow the general principles set forth by the courts regarding the display of religious symbols and/or Nativity scenes. A publicly sponsored Nativity scene on public property is constitutional so long as it is displayed in the context of other secular symbols of the holiday, like Santa Claus or a Christmas tree, so as not to appear to be endorsing a particular religion. A privately sponsored religious symbol or Nativity on public property where members of the public are permitted to display such symbols does not need an accompanying secular symbol to be constitutional.

In applying this general rule to the university, if a Nativity or other religious symbol of the holiday is displayed in a place open to the general public (like a lobby), the university will include secular symbols of the holiday in the nearby context. However, employees in their cubicles or offices may personally display a Nativity or other religious symbol of the holiday. In such setting, the employee need not include secular symbols of the holiday. Employees have always been and continue to be permitted to greet one another with the greeting 'Merry Christmas' or 'Happy Holidays.' The decision is up to each employee.

I trust that these guiding principles will clarify the matter regarding Christmas for the staff and the general public.

John Hays
SWOSU President

Am I wrong in noticing a bit of a contradiction with his earlier statement?

No Ban on Christmas December 20, 2007

An attempt to be respectful of the diverse religious population at Southwestern Oklahoma State University has been misinterpreted as an attempt to ban Christmas on the Weatherford campus.

The rumor of this ban is not true.

The university attempted to prevent the appearance as a state agency of endorsing any particular religion.

John Hays
SWOSU President

On December 20, he refers to an official university action: "The university attempted to prevent the appearance as a state agency of endorsing any particular religion."

On December 21, he denies that official university action was involved: "The university does not have a policy that bans the word 'Christmas' or Christmas decorations. However, some supervisors or department leaders within the university who meant well may have suggested to employees that caution should be taken with respect to Christmas decorations. One thing led to another and the result was that some mistakenly assumed that Christmas decorations were being prohibited."

I'm happy that they've come around in support of freedom of expression, but it still looks like someone is playing a game of CYA.

Liberty Counsel, the national group which first called attention to the issue, is very pleased with the outcome:

Mr. Hays deserves a big "Thank You and Merry Christmas." His leadership in resolving the controversy over Christmas and the general guidelines he has set forth regarding the appropriate way a state school and its employees may acknowledge and celebrate Christmas serves as an example for others to follow. Christmas is a wonderful time of the year and it can and should be enjoyed by all.

The Oklahoman story adds a detail from the SWOSU spokesman:

Spokesman Brian Adler said employees were asked to keep public areas of the campus free of religious decor because not all students celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday.

Mark Tapscott, who brought the story into the blogosphere, spoke with John Hays by phone:

"We don't have any written guidelines now, but Matt [Staver of Liberty Counsel] tells me the court cases are pretty clear that when you do have something like a nativity scene on public property, like on City Hall, you also have to have some secular items with it," said John Hayes, SWOSU's president. Staver promised to provide Hayes with materials on court cases on the issue that would be useful in writing guidelines for the school's existing policy, the SWOSU official said.

Hayes said his university doesn't have "a new policy, there has just been a big mis-understanding. One of the offices told somebody they couldn't do something and it was over-emphasized." An employee had placed a snowman in a public area of an office that said "Merry Christmas," according to Hayes. The snowman was then moved to a different area, he said.

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2 Comments

webworm Author Profile Page said:

Just more Political Correctness running wild in Academia. The Prez of this one horse school in rural Oklahoma was trying to go big time and got caught. Now, he is trying to weasel out of it. Yes, he has changed his story. Very typical....see Mike Adams for more like this. Oh, and this sort of thing is ultra unconstiutional, if these creeps gave a rat's a__ about our constitution.

Whitney said:

"one-horse school" Please keep your uneducated comments to yourself, considering you don't know what you are talking about. Our pharmacy school ranks among the top in the nation. Yes, it is in rural Oklahoma, yes President Hayes did "change" his story, but your comment was unneccesary! Thanks for showing us just another example of what not having an education can do for you!

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on December 22, 2007 2:23 PM.

Oklahoma college bans the word "Christmas" -- was it on Edmondson's advice? was the previous entry in this blog.

Monday morning on 1170 KFAQ is the next entry in this blog.

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