Major university advises department members not to display Christian, Jewish holiday symbols

Major university advises department members not to display Christian, Jewish holiday symbols

University of Minnesota says its anti-Christmas memo wasn’t supposed to leak to the publicThe College Fix

Lisa Bourne

ST. PAUL, Minnesota, December 21, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — Staff and faculty were told at a recent University of Minnesota departmental diversity gathering that Christian and Jewish holiday expressions of faith were inappropriate on campus.

“In general,” a handout distributed at the event said, “the following are not appropriate for gatherings and displays at this time of year since they typically represent specific religious iconography.”

The list was a comprehensive collection of items specifically indicative of Christmas and Hanukkah.

Santa Claus was listed first, then angels, Christmas trees, the star of Bethlehem, dreidels, Nativity scenes, bows or wrapped gifts, menorahs, bells and doves.

The “Religious Diversity and Holidays” document also said some colors are inappropriate for decoration themes because “red and green are representative of the Christian tradition as blue and white/silver are for Jewish Hanukkah that is also celebrated at this time of year.”


“Individuals may display expressions of their religious faith in their own personal space,” it stated, “if it does not have a meaningful public function and not in public areas.”

The December 6 event was the University’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences “Dean’s Dialogues,” which had the theme “Respecting Religious Diversity in CFANS and at the University.”

The event advertised dialogue and conversation about religious diversity in the CFANS department and at the university.

However, dialogue at the event was one-sided, a person in attendance said, and it served to illustrate an ongoing environment on campus that leaves Christians and Jews abandoned and alienated.

“There was no dialogue,” the source said, “there was only: we should do what they say is appropriate.”

Happy Holidays


In addition to deeming Christian and Jewish holiday expressions inappropriate, the documents distributed at the event emphasized keeping things “neutral and non-religious and not reflective of any one religious holiday.” The title of one handout seemingly played down Catholic and Lutheran heritage in the area.

And while there was some table discussion at the CFANS religious diversity event, LifeSite’s source said the bulk of the presentation consisted of a vague message about inclusion given by a female Muslim student in full hijab.

While the CFANS event had a religious diversity theme, the on-campus environment for Christians and Jews can be hostile, the source said, where they can be marked as offending others for having shown expressions of their faith.

The message at the CFANS gathering was clearly that diversity is meant for everyone else on campus except the Christian and Jewish demographic, the individual told LifeSiteNews.

The individual – a member of the university community who spoke under the condition of anonymity – told LifeSite they felt compelled to speak up because the event exemplifies a discriminatory attitude toward Christians and Jews on University of Minnesota campus. It’s problematic to speak about this, they said, because of the likelihood of repercussions.


“The trouble is,” the source said, “who’s going to talk about it?”

“As a Christian, I do not have a place where I can ask for help in cases when my religious rights are violated,” the source said. “The University of Minnesota does not provide me with a resource that I could find in the University’s office of Diversity and Equality that I could identify with.”

“It is as if students and employees of Christian and Jewish beliefs are officially and systemically left out from the ‘highly diverse’ University of Minnesota community,” they said. “We are pushed back to privately-funded organizations off campus, to our private churches and communities.”

The university is an amazing scientific community, the individual told LifeSiteNews, with brilliant scientists from all over the world. And yet the “diversity” environment often leaves Christians and Jews feeling unsupported – and this surely has a negative effect on people’s work performance.

“There is no ‘safe spaces’ for Christian and Jewish people,” the source continued. “Are we not part of the diverse University of Minnesota?”

LifeSiteNews inquired with the university about the materials and the message conveyed to Christian and Jewish members of the university community — especially given that the dean and vice dean of CFANS took part in the event, as did the CFANS head of diversity, and that both documents distributed at the event indicated they were produced by university leadership.

The university provided the following statement:

“The document was used by the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) as a conversation piece to facilitate dialogue at a voluntary, internal college event on respecting religious diversity in the workplace. It was not distributed broadly to CFANS employees. It does not reflect current University of Minnesota, EOAA (Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action) or CFANS official guidance.”

“Excuse me,” the source responded, “there were three people from University of Minnesota leadership at that meeting. That’s not a conversation piece – that’s instruction.”

Religious diversity and holidays and not just Catholics and Lutherans

The handout on religious diversity and the holidays “encourages” readers to “express their concerns” to “various reporting options” such as the EOAA or the university’s “Bias Incident Website.” It offers support for those “concerned there are inappropriate religious celebrations” in their work or learning environment. And it refers readers with questions back the CFANS office for Diversity and Inclusion.

The other document distributed at the event stated the chair of the university’s department of religious studies created it. It was a timeline of “religious diversity in the Twin Cities” titled “Not Just Lutherans and Catholics.”

Extreme, absurd and overt censorship

Liberty Counsel chairman Mat Staver told LifeSiteNews that the University department’s religious diversity message was extreme and amounts to censorship.

“Banning red and green and Santa along with Christian and Jewish symbols words related to Christmas or Hanukkah is extreme,” Staver said. “Indeed, it is absurd.”

“The so-called diversity inclusion is exclusion of anything related to the December holidays,” he continued. “The Constitution does not require the university’s extreme policy. It might even be argued this overt censorship violates the rights of a majority of the students.”

Staver’s thought on the Constitutional aspect echoed that of University of San Diego law professor Steven Smith.

“This goes well beyond anything the Constitution requires,” Smith toldIntellectual Takeout. “This sounds like the university might be going a little bit berserk.”


The source told LifeSiteNews that of the 80 or so people in attendance at the religious diversity event, quite a few seemed uncomfortable about what was being conveyed.

Authentic diversity at the university has actually declined due to things like this, the source said, because in reality, it leads to people feeling unable to show who they really are — for fear of being accused of offending others.

“The University of Minnesota is supposed to represent many cultures,” LifeSite’s source stated. “Are those only empty words and promises?”

“I really feel left out,” the source continued. “How many other members of students, staff and faculty are impacted by this type of attitude?”

Christians are asked by Jesus to love all, the source pointed out, including strangers, people of different views, and enemies. But, the source asked, “Why such hostility toward my faith from University of Minnesota?”

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2 comments on “Major university advises department members not to display Christian, Jewish holiday symbols

  1. [Coming soon to a “Catholic” university or college near you? How about Jesuit Loyola U. Chicago for a start?]

    Religious Holidays Aren’t Represented Equally on [Loyola U.] Campus


    Loyola’s Muslim Student Association

    By Sajedah Al-khzaleh
    Loyola Phoenix
    Published December 6, 2017; updated December 10, 2017

    It’s that time of year again, and Loyola has decked out its buildings with decorations for the holiday season. But Christmas gets more attention on campus than other religious holidays.

    Although Loyola fosters a space for non-Christian religions to practice their faith — such as in the Damen Student Center’s second floor of Ministry Offices for Muslim, Hindu and Jewish students — there is a lack of public festivity compared to Christmas, such as decorations and activities of other religions’ holidays the entire student body could be part of.

    Roman Catholicism is the largest religious group on campus, according to Loyola’s undergraduate admissions’ latest report. The report said the 2016 first-year class identified as 60 percent Roman Catholic and 40 percent other — Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Protestant and Eastern Orthodox.

    Sajid Ahmed, a 19-year-old Muslim student and prayer coordinator for the Muslim Student Association (MSA), said although the atmosphere of the Christmas season brings him happiness, he wishes Muslim holidays were just as prominent.

    Christmas is a Christian holiday, but is observed by many non-Christians, too. Muslims, however, celebrate two major religious holidays: Eid al-Fitr — a religious holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan (the month of fasting) — and Eid al-Adha, known as the Feast of Sacrifice.

    Eid is celebrated on different dates each year because the Islamic calendar follows a lunar cycle, as opposed to the more globally used solar cycle. However, Eid al-Fitr usually occurs mid-June and Eid al-Adha occurs toward the end of August.

    Like Christmas, the Eids are celebrated differently among various cultures, but they traditionally begin with morning prayers and end with family gatherings. Muslim homes in the United States also put up lights and decorations, while Muslim-based countries include those lights and decorations on their streets.

    So far, in honor of the Christmas season, Loyola has put up lights and trees in various campus buildings. The university participated in its Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony Nov. 28 in the Damen Student Center, which included Santa Claus, an ice rink, hot chocolate and art decorations.

    But the Eid is celebrated only among Loyola Muslim students themselves, which includes a morning prayer service and a dinner, according to Ahmed. Decorations aren’t hung on campus buildings nor activities hosted by the university.

    Last year, because the Eid fell during the school year, Ahmed said he had to continue his day with classes after the prayer.

    “Eid [at Loyola] is a bit dampened just because you have to go about your normal routine along with Eid,” Ahmed said. “At home it’d be a big family thing, dress up and go to the mosque. We’d spend the day together and celebrate … compared to that, college Eid has been less.”

    Ahmed said the lack of celebration impacts international students and students from out of state the most.

    “The atmosphere [in Muslim based countries] is a lot different than [in the United States] it’s like Christmas here,” Ahmed said.

    Omer Mozaffar, Loyola’s Muslim chaplain, said he helps Muslim students request time off to celebrate with their families by asking students’ professors to accommodate for the holiday, which professors usually grant.

    But because this isn’t always possible for students with a strict school schedule, Ahmed said the university could instead be more festive for Muslim students who stay on campus.

    “For someone who lives far away and doesn’t have the opportunity to meet up with family, I would say making Loyola’s Eid as festive as possible would be great so that [Muslim students] can feel connected with their heritage and with their religion,” Ahmed said.

    Demographics within the university might be the reason the university doesn’t celebrate religious holidays to the extent of Christmas.

    With about 800 Muslim students at Loyola, including international students, according to Mozaffar, there may be a lack of exposure.

    “I think if the leadership is exposed to the Muslim voice, the voice who wants to make campus more festive for other holidays, I think that’s definitely one step,” Ahmed said.

    Bryan Goodwin, associate director of the student complex, said demographics don’t guide the decorations during the holiday season.

    “I don’t think [demographics] ever come to our minds in terms of the decisions that we make with Christmas,” Goodwin said. “I think what guides it … doesn’t have to do with faith, it has to do with that most common sort of feeling [of the season].”

    With other religions in mind, Goodwin said the university tries to be as general as possible with its decorations, including banners that say “Happy Holidays” as opposed to “Merry Christmas.”

    Goodwin said they’d be willing to incorporate as many religions during this holiday season and even during individual times, if those religious groups requested it.

    “We feel that we do a good job at the student center of allowing other faiths to [join the holiday season],” Goodwin said. “We pride ourselves on wanting to make sure we’re aware. We always lend ourselves the conversation.”

    Mozaffar also said he doesn’t think the Loyola administration would be opposed to putting up decorations for Muslim holidays, but the dates in which the Eid falls under makes it difficult to address because it happens toward the beginning of the school year. Mozaffar also said the MSA hasn’t proposed decorations either.

    Ahmed said he still hopes Eid could become more festive at Loyola, though he isn’t confident.

    “Will there be Eid celebrations on a scale of a Christmas tree? Demographically, I doubt it’s going to happen just because the prevalent holiday celebrated from the student body at Loyola is Christmas,” Ahmed said. “But if Eid was celebrated at the scale of Christmas, I would be so happy.”

    For now, many Muslims on campus, including Mozaffar and Ahmed, enjoy the holiday season.

    “It’s contagious happiness,” Ahmed said. “I don’t celebrate Christmas itself, but I respect that this is a time of happiness for people, so I enjoy it, too.”

    One holiday celebrated during the season is Bodhi Day, a Buddhist celebration of enlightenment that occurs Dec. 8.

    At Loyola, Bodhi Day is recognized by some members of the Hindu Students’ Organization (HSO).

    Recognizing smaller holidays like Bodhi day is important to Loyola, which desires intellectual diversity, according to Shweta Singh, associate professor in the school of social work and adviser of HSO.

    “People should at least know about [other holidays],” Singh said. “They’re smaller festivals, but they’re not small to the people celebrating them.”

    Singh said it’s the responsibility of both student organizations representing other faiths and cultures and the university to publicly celebrate as many religious holidays on campus as possible.

  2. This reminds me of an anonymous poem that I read long ago in an issue of Common Sense, edied by the late Conde McGinley:


    Oh! Why leave the Christ out of Christmas?
    Why substitute X for His name?
    There is naught else on earth or in Heaven
    Can ever make Christmas the same.
    Be it thoughtlessness, hate or indifference,
    By the fault I grieve and offend;
    When I leave the Christ out of Christmas
    I’m slighting my very best friend,
    When I leave the Christ out of Christmas,
    In vain is my holiday mirth;
    For the Christ, God’s gift to His children
    Is the Christ who brought Christmas to earth.
    God forgive me the throughtless omission,
    I would not that Christ should depart;
    Not only the Christ at the yuletide;
    But all of the year in my heart.

    I know that “X” is the Greek letter chi, the first letter of the name (and thus a symbol) of Christ, but the poem makes the point.

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