The Veteran’s administration in Salem, Virginia tried to play the role of Grinch this Christmas but a rabid backlash caused it to backtrack…slightly.
Following a letter to employees banning Christmas trees and pro-Christmas speech the facility acquiesced Friday to allow a tree to be erected in the building, WSLS reported.
The decision directed that the tree be paid for via private donations and be displayed alongside decorations for Hanukkah and Kwanzaa but saying “Merry Christmas” or playing Christmas music would still be a no-no.
Veteran Vicki Jackson is among those happy to see the tree back at least.
“It’s like going home and just to see that tree in the lobby is a god sent to me,” Jackson told WSLS.
“Christmas is hard for me, it’s real hard for something that happened years ago,” she said.
“I don’t look at the tree as the birth of Christ, I don’t,” Jackson said. “I look at is as a tree being decorated with ornaments.”
The original email to employees banned Christmas trees because they “have been deemed to promote the Christian religion.”
While the tree is back, no change has been made to the limits placed on music and Christian speech.
The email stated that “employees are permitted to engage in private religious expression in their personal work areas that are not regularly open to the public.”
“If an employee’s supervisor has previously granted them permission to listen to music in their personal work area, they should be reminded that music travels and should be secular (non-religious) and appropriate to the work environment,” it added.
In other words no “Merry Christmas” in front of anyone who might be offended and no “Silent Night.”
The email sparking the outrage:
“At this time of year, it is appropriate to be reminded of the various regulations for holiday displays in federal facilities.
When the public (Veterans and beneficiaries) accesses the Federal workplace, their reasonable impression should be that the government is not sponsoring or endorsing on religion over another.
The Salem VAMC Executive Leadership Team wishes to extend our wishes for a happy holiday season in a manner that is welcoming to all. To that end, public areas may only be decorated in a manner that is celebratory of the winter season. Displays must not promote any religion. Please note that trees (regardless of the types of ornaments used) have been deemed to promote the Christian religion and will not be permitted in any public areas this year.
Employees are permitted to engage in private religious expression in their personal work areas that are not regularly open to the public. Religious expression will be permitted as long as it does not interfere with carrying out of official duties and responsibilities. Items must be displayed in a manner such that the viewing public would reasonably understand the religious expression to be that of the employee acting in their own personal capacity and not of the government itself. If an employee’s supervisor has previously granted them permission to listen to music in their personal work area, they should be reminded that music travels and should be secular (non-religious) and appropriate to the work environment.
The statement from the VA on the return of the Christmas tree obtained by WSLS read as follows.
In an effort to find an appropriate balance between compliance with Federal regulations which govern holiday displays in Federal facilities and the desire of our employees and Veterans to be able to decorate for the holidays, namely by placing a Christmas tree in the public lobby, the Salem Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) Director, Dr. Miguel LaPuz, invited all Salem VAMC employees to a lunchtime discussion group Friday to hear their opinions and views on how this balance could be achieved.
After a lengthy discussion, it was determined that Christmas trees could be displayed in public areas so long as they were accompanied by the respective symbols of the two other faiths that celebrate holidays during this holiday season – namely the Jewish Menorah, or Hanukkah Lamp, and the Kwanzaa Mkeka (decorative mat) or Kinara (candleholder).
VA Directive 0022, titled “Religious Symbols in Holiday Displays in VA Facilities”, clearly states that “Religious symbols may be included in a holiday display in a public area of a VA facility if the display does not favor one religion over another, and conveys a primarily secular message. By placing diverse holiday symbols together in the public places of its facilities, VA gives no preference to one holiday above another. Prominently displaying a sign or banner containing a secular message such as ‘Happy Holidays’ or ‘Seasons Greetings’ assists in achieving [that] primarily secular message.
This compromise allows for the Salem VAMC to be in full compliance with Federal mandates that prohibit U.S. Government facilities, including the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, from “favoring one religion over another” while providing the diversity and flexibility for employees and Veterans to celebrate the holidays according to their individual faith structure.
It should be noted that government funds are not appropriate for the purchase of holiday decorations. Salem VAMC will continue to rely on donations for any future displays.
Watch the WSLS report below.
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