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Interfaith & Holiday GuidelinesCreating an inclusive and respectful work environment during holiday seasons

ESF is a community of diverse cultures. We realize that people celebrate a variety of holidays during various times of the year, and some people choose to celebrate none. Some celebrations are tradition based, cultural, spiritual or religious. In recognition, and celebration of our diversity and to promote a civil, respectful and safe holiday season, we are encouraging all employees to take this opportunity to learn about different cultures and traditions. Some suggestions for decorations during this season are:

  1. For safety reasons, electrical decorations are not permitted in personal spaces.
  2. Seasonal, inclusive decorations that encourage an appreciation for all traditions are encouraged.
  3. Managers and supervisors should handle questions regarding the appropriateness of decorations.

Christmas Trees

The display of Christmas trees on campus is generally permissible. Courts have recognized that Christmas trees have become simply a secular symbol associated with the winter holiday season. All holiday displays must also be consistent with applicable fire and safety codes. For more information about what those codes require, contact John Wasiel, Environmental Health & Safety Officer, (315) 470-6896.

Nativity Scenes and Menorahs

The display of nativity scenes and menorahs has generally been upheld by courts against legal challenges if they appear as part of a larger display with a secular purpose, such as the celebration of pluralism and freedom or the promotion of tolerance and respect for diverse customs. However, any holiday display with an overtly religious symbol (such as a nativity scene or a menorah) should include at least one other religious symbol from a different religious tradition. The legal validity of these displays is premised on the notion that they do not represent an endorsement of any particular religion, any religious doctrine, or religion in general. The university is not required, however, to display any particular symbol of a religious nature requested by students, staff or the public. For example, a public school's holiday display which included a menorah, crescent and star, Christmas trees and other holiday symbols was permissible, even though it did not include a nativity scene as requested by parents and religious leaders.

Religious Symbols and Décor in Employee Offices and Cubicles

Displays of religious décor and symbols inside employees' offices and cubicles are generally permissible. In fact, prohibiting the display of religious decorations and symbols may be deemed an infringement on an employee's constitutional rights of free exercise of religion and free speech. Under certain circumstances, however, restrictions on religious displays may be appropriate such as in the office of a high-ranking university official where the display may be interpreted as an endorsement by the University of a particular religion or religions.

Public Forums on Campus

If the campus has a public forum designated for free speech purposes available throughout the year, the college cannot restrict its use during the holiday season to prevent the display of holiday symbols or messages. Such actions have been deemed impermissible content-based restrictions on speech. However, college policies that reasonably limit use of public areas in time, place and manner still apply, including quiet hours during study and exam periods.

Language Used with Permission: University of Wisconsin System