In a memo to university staff, the University of Minnesota wrote that student employees were forbidden from placing religion-specific decorations in university buildings. Students, however, are free to decorate their personal space however they please.
In general, the following are not appropriate for gatherings and displays at this time of year since they typically represent specific religious iconography: Santa Claus, Angels, Christmas trees, Star of Bethlehem, Dreidels, Nativity scene, Bows/wrapped gifts. Menorah, Bells, Doves, Red and Green or Blue and White/Silver decoration themes (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).
The memo asks students to contact the university’s Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action office is they believe they have encountered an inappropriate religious celebration on campus. “If you are concerned that there are inappropriate religious celebrations in your work or learning environment, or if you or anyone in your unit has a concern about religious expression or accommodation, please contact us (EOAA) for additional support,” the memo reads.
According to Dr. Douglas Laycock, a professor of law at the University of Virginia, some courts have ruled against government-sponsored religious displays. Some legal scholars emphasize what is known as the “Three Reindeer Rule,” which requires governmental entities, like public universities, to place decorations from various religions next to each other. However, in the 1989 Supreme Court Case, County of Allegheny v. ACLU, the court ruled that Christmas trees alone are not religious symbols.
Teresa S. Collett, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas School, argued that the University of Minnesota’s policy effectively minimizes diversity. “The promise of those who advocate for diversity was that we would have a richer more robust community,” Collett argued. “The University of Minnesota guidelines suggest quite the opposite — removing red, green, blue and white from the palette of colors with which we paint our holidays.”
The University of Minnesota said in a statement that the memo was merely meant to act as a guideline for university staff. They claim that the university has no official position on religious decorations.