University Denies Christmas Ban Policy

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

( - The president of Southwestern Oklahoma State University denied Friday that the school has a ban on the word "Christmas" or Christmas decorations.

This comes after the Liberty Counsel, a religious liberties law firm, sent a letter to the university after receiving a complaint from an affiliate. According to the Liberty Counsel, David Misak, the director of human resources, informed university employees that any decorations featuring the words "Christ" or "Christmas" in any work or public area of the school must be removed.

The Liberty Counsel also claimed Misak told employees to discontinue use of the word "Christmas" in their speech and voicemail while on the job, a direct violation of the First Amendment and other federal law. In a statement on the school's Web site, university President John Hays said school policy does not ban Christmas in any way.

"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," he said.

"One thing led to another and the result was that some mistakenly assumed that Christmas decorations were being prohibited," said Hays, who added that he met with staff members "to get to the bottom of the matter" as well as meeting with Liberty Counsel founder Mathew Staver.

Staver applauded Hays' "prompt actions" to resolve the controversy.

"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," Staver said.

"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...." Hays said.

"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," he said.

"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," he said.

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