UNC Libraries Throw Out Christmas Trees

For as long as anyone can remember, Christmas trees adorned with lights and ornaments have greeted holiday season visitors to UNC Chapel Hill’s two main libraries.

Not this year.

The trees, which have stood in the lobby areas of Wilson and Davis libraries each December, were kept in storage this year at the behest of Sarah Michalak, the associate provost for university libraries.

Michalak’s decision followed several years of queries and complaints from library employees and patrons bothered by the Christian display, Michalak said this week.

Michalak said that banishing the Christmas displays was not an easy decision but that she asked around to library colleagues at Duke, N.C. State and elsewhere and found no other one where Christmas trees were displayed.

Aside from the fact that a UNC Chapel Hill library is a public facility, Michalak said, libraries are places where information from all corners of the world and all belief systems is offered without judgment. Displaying one particular religion’s symbols is antithetical to that philosophy, she said.

“We strive in our collection to have a wide variety of ideas,” she said. “It doesn’t seem right to celebrate one particular set of customs.”

Michalak, chief librarian for four years, said at least a dozen library employees have complained over the last few years about the display. She hasn’t heard similar criticism from students, though they may have voiced concerns to other library staff.

Public libraries generally shy away from creating displays promoting any single religion, said Catherine Mau, deputy director of the Durham County library system, where poinsettias provided by a library booster group provide holiday cheer.

Golden, Colorado Throws out Menorahs

Old Town Fort Collins (Colorado) is bedecked in white lights, the holiday symbols are going up in storefronts and once again, City Councils are refusing to put up menorahs.

Just another Colorado holiday season? Say it isn’t so.

The city of Golden voted last week to support secular symbols in its official town celebration, extending them to include Santa Claus so an arch in downtown can once again host St. Nick and his reindeer.

The City Council preferred secular symbols like snowflakes and icicles, along with lighted trees, which the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled are primarily secular.

There will not be any menorahs, Kwanzaa kenoras or other holiday traditions on display on city property, although the council agreed to study the issue further next year.

Rabbi Levi Brackman, director of Judaism in the Foothills, asked the city for permission to erect a menorah on city property at 10th Street and Washington Avenue.

He said now that the city has decided against it, he’ll look for a private property owner who might be interested. Otherwise, he said he’ll let it go.

“My feeling is, if I can find another way—not on public property and without upsetting anyone, without causing any conflict—to accomplish exactly the same goal, which is to reach out to Jewish people with Judaism, I’ll do it,” he said.

In Fort Collins, it sounded all too familiar.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Gorelik, director of the Chabad Center of Northern Colorado, said he would reserve judgment on the city’s newly minted holiday display, called “Fort Collins Winter Traditions: Celebrations of Light,” until he sees it.

As of Monday, when installation was set to begin, Gorelik had not been approached about what the Hanukkah display would look like. He said he was out of the loop.

“I don’t know what’s going on, so I’d like to reserve judgment until I do know what’s going on,” he said.

Gorelik’s request three years ago to erect a menorah near a Christmas tree in Old Town sparked the controversy, which drew national attention to Fort Collins.

His 2005 request to have a menorah as part of the city’s holiday display raised concerns from some City Council members who feared adding a menorah to a Christmas tree display would open the floodgates to requests from many other faiths, everything from Nativity scenes to celebrations of Wiccanhood.

A temporary holiday display policy called for white or colored lights, traditional secular symbols and written secular messages. During the summer of 2007, a resident task force considered revisions to that policy.

Ultimately, council decided to allow Christmas trees and colored lights to remain in city displays, and added an educational all-faiths display at the museum.

That display will include a Nativity scene, a menorah and other depictions of cultural celebrations in Fort Collins. There won’t be a menorah in other city locations, but Gorelik plans to erect one at Coopersmith’s Pub, as he has done for the past several years.

As for Brackman, he said he took Fort Collins’ hard-earned lessons to heart—along with those of Seattle, which played host to a similar dispute over decorations at the airport.

“Ultimately, my view is, they don’t want it, too bad for them,” he said, adding that he does not hold anything against the Golden council. “We’ll try another way of doing it. Other than that, I’m looking upward.”

Christmas Wins: Florida University Reverses Ban

Bad publicity killed a ban on Christmas. It is once again safe to say “Merry Christmas” at Florida Gulf Coast University, an institution of higher learning that had, until this past week, enjoyed their obscurity.

In a statement released by the school, President Wilson G. Bradshaw said:

“There has been an overwhelmingly negative response to my recent communiqu� to the valued employees of Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU). It is now clear to me that we have erred in our attempt to find a balance between how best to observe the season in ways that honor all traditions – while also allowing employees to express their individual beliefs during the upcoming holiday season. As stated in my earlier message, there was no attempt to suppress expression of the holiday spirit. However, the message was received differently, and for this, I am sorry.

Today I am reversing my earlier direction regarding holiday decorations on the campus, and announcing a return to FGCU’s past practice in which common areas of the campus may be decorated. Employees may decorate the common space areas in their departments and units, and of course also continue to decorate their desks and individual workspaces in observance of the holiday season.

Wilson pointed out that “trying to adhere to tenets of political correctness was not the basis for the earlier decision, but rather attempting to achieve a difficult balance.”

Um, sure, Wilson.

MSU Struggles to Define Non-Religious Christmas Decor

A year-old controversy, to keep Christmas trees off the Missouri State campus, should be laid to rest this holiday.

The university just came out with a new decoration guideline that should answer any questions about what’s appropriate.

“That’s our goal, no controversy,” says Clif Smart, Missouri State General Counsel.

Last year the “C” in Christmas might as well have stood for controversy.

“I just don’t see what’s so religious about some tinsel and some lights,” says Tiffany Montileone, MSU student.

But last year, it was, at least, argued. Even Missouri’s governor weighed-in in favor of the tree.

“I personally don’t see the harm in it,” says Montileone.

This year, though, the university wants to make clear what is appropriate for holiday decor. MSU has divided how people can decorate in certain areas like common space and personal space.

“You wouldn’t see a nativity scene for example or any religious symbol of any religion unless that was a part of a display celebrating diversity, religious freedom,” says Smart.

In Strong Hall on the second floor, there is a display that shows different religions and holidays. It is clear that was put together to celebrate diversity. On the first floor, however, there is a Christmas tree, which is not considered a religious symbol. At news time, there was a Menorah also on display on the first floor, which is considered a religious symbol according to the University’s new guideline. At new time, KSPR was not able to get a reason as to why the two were placed beside one another. We talked to a University official, and they said they are looking into the matter.

However, dorms and offices are free space. A person can decorate their personal space anyway they see fit. In the meantime, though, the tree will stay.

“I think overall people are fairly indifferent about it,” says Brandon Dirickson. “You see it everywhere.”

“I think it’s gorgeous,” says Erin Wibbenmeyer. “I love the Christmas tree here, and I’m glad they put it back up.”

The University considers the following items religious symbols that “would generally be inappropriate for use in holiday decorations in common areas of the University”: The Nativity Scene, A Cross or Crucifixion, A Menorah, The Star of David, The Star and Crescent, Drawings of Jesus or Mohammed, The Bible of Koran.

The University considers the following items “decorations which are appropriate for use in common areas of University buildings because they are not religious symbols”: Flowers, Greenery, Wreaths, Christmas Trees, Bells, Snowmen, Winter Scenes, Santa Claus, Animals, Ribbon, Flags, and Pilgrims.

Christmas Performance Put Off to Accomodate Muslim Festival

British parents looking to see their children in a traditional Christmas play are fuming after a school decided to cancel the performance because it conflicts with the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, the U.K.’s Telegraph newspaper reported.

Officials at the Greenwood Junior School in Nottingham decided to postpone the annual holiday performance because it would have been too difficult to have both the Christmas and Eid celebrations together, The Telegraph reported.

“It is the first year my son has been there and a lot of the mums like me were really looking forward to seeing the children in the nativity,” one mother told the paper.

A letter sent by school officials and obtained by the paper apologized for “any misunderstanding” but said it had to respect “the cultures and religions of all the children.”

“The Christmas performance has not been canceled outright but has been postponed until the New Year,” the letter read.

But parents told The Telegraph that they were originally told the performance was canceled because Muslim children wanted to celebrate Eid with their families, making it difficult to schedule a date for the performance.