Less than one day after WND reported on the imposition of a ban on references to “Christmas” at a Midwest university, the school’s president has taken steps to fix the problem.
“I am very pleased by the prompt actions of President John Hays to resolve the Christmas controversy,” said Mathew D. Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, an advocacy law firm that alleged illegal censorship at Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford, Okla.
“His leadership in resolving the controversy of 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,” Staver said. “Christmas is a wonderful time of the year, and it can and should be enjoyed by all.”
Hays insisted the university does not have a policy that bans the word ‘Christmas’ or Christmas decorations.
“However,” he wrote in a statemetn, “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,” he continued, “and the result was that some mistakenly assumed that Christmas decorations were being prohibited.
“The university will continue to follow the law and to respect the right of all its staff members,” Hays said. “Thus, the university will follow the general principles set forth by the courts regarding the display of religious symbols and/or Nativity scenes…. 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 a 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.”
Liberty Counsel said the directions previously issued on campus, which were noted in its letter to the school, had sounded alarms.
The university’s website features a “Happy Holidays” and Christmas trees
“After Weatherford City Commissioner Warren Goldmann heard from a constituent that the word ‘Christmas’ was banned by the university, Goldmann contacted the provost of the university, Dr. Blake Sonove, who confirmed the ‘Christmas’ ban policy and indicated that the university was relying on an opinion from Attorney General Drew Edmonson (who denies ever giving such an opinion). Commissioner Goldmann then reported the information to Liberty Counsel,” Liberty Counsel said.
In addition, Liberty Counsel said admissions coordinator Connie Phillips reported David Misek, director of human resources, arrived in the registrar’s office with Tom Fagan, vice president of finance, and they ordered the words “Christ” and “Christmas” covered up, and banned the use of “Merry Christmas” in e-mails.
“The same action occurred in the business office where someone asked for the directive in writing and was told that the written policy is still being drafted. Another person provided Misak with written information showing that using ‘Christmas’ is constitutional, but Misak would not change his stance,” Liberty Counsel said.
Such demands “are in direct violation of the United States Constitution and other federal law. The First Amendment prohibits government from being hostile to religion. Selecting one legal holiday for negative treatment and special restrictions solely because it has religious aspects clearly demonstrates hostility toward religion,” Liberty Counsel said in its letter to the school.
“Moreover, the free speech rights of employees at the university are infringed when their speech is censored solely because of a religious viewpoint or perceived religious viewpoint.”
On his blog, Mark Tapscott focused on the core issue immediately.
“It’s clear somebody at SWOSU got the idea that employees there should be told to stop using such terms as ‘Christmas’ and ‘Christ.’ … Maybe that somebody misunderstood something that was said to them … or maybe that somebody simply took it upon themselves and informally advised SWOSU managers to spread the word among the troops. That somebody ought to come forward and clear up the confusion,” he wrote.
Tapscott also reported his sources at the school had confirmed an order had been issued “to take the word ‘Christmas’ off of our e-mail signatures and not to use that word in any official correspondence.”
One employee told Tapscott she gave her boss a piece of her mind.
“I told them they could write me up but I was not going to take it off my signature,” said Phillips, SWOSU’s admissions coordinator.