New York, NY, November 9, 2004 … Each December schools and teachers are confronted with the question of how to approach the holidays without favoring one religious faith over another or making some students feel uncomfortable because their religious background is different from others.
To help negotiate this "December dilemma," the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) provides public schools and government institutions with materials and information on how to keep public recognition of the December holidays constitutionally permissible.
"More than any other time of year, December poses a unique challenge for public schools and government institutions," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. "We want schools to understand the guidelines and to know that there is nothing wrong with acknowledging the December holidays so long as it is done with sensitivity, with respect, and always with an understanding of the importance of the separation of church and state."
With the December holidays rapidly approaching and with Hannukah coming much earlier than Christmas this year (the first day of Hannukah falls on December 8), ADL began its annual outreach to public schools and institutions earlier this year, with letters going out to school districts and government institutions and an updated online guide, The December Dilemma: December Holiday Guidelines for Public Schools.
Some of the matters highlighted and explained in detail by ADL include:
- The difference between practicing religion and teaching about religion;
- Guidelines for holiday assemblies, concerts and other public school activities where religious themes or music may be performed;
- Choosing appropriate holiday symbols to decorate school grounds;
- Choosing appropriate holiday activities;
- Understanding what can – and cannot – be displayed on city property.
In letters sent to school districts nationwide and distributed through ADL's 30 regional offices, the League emphasizes the need for schools to be cautious in how they choose to employ religious symbols and teach about the holidays, and offers suggestions to help "create a school environment that celebrates diversity by respecting different points of view concerning religion." The general rule, the letter explains: "When a school does choose to acknowledge the December holidays, it is essential that the school must never appear to endorse religion over non-religion or one particular religious faith over another."
Likewise, in a letter to government institutions and town officials responsible for holiday displays, ADL offers guidance on the placement of religious displays on public property. The letter comes with an easy-to-use chart, "Quick Guide to Religious Displays," explaining which types of displays are acceptable and not acceptable during the Holiday season.