ADL Offers Schools Guidance for Negotiating the 'December Dilemma'
New York, NY, December 6, 2005
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.
This year, the issue is playing out against the backdrop of a highly publicized movement claiming that the use of more inclusive terms like "Happy Holidays" or "Seasons Greetings" amounts to discrimination against Christians. Some are even urging consumers to boycott stores unless they agree to use the word Christmas in their advertising.
"We are concerned about the increasingly strident tone of statements coming from certain groups and the aggressively adversarial campaign to press the claim that Christianity is somehow 'under attack' in America," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. "In fact, America is the most religious country in the developed world and Christianity is its predominant religion.
"The traditional seasonal message of peace and hope is being drowned out by divisive rhetoric and disruptive tactics."
As the December holidays approach (this year, the Jewish celebration of Hannukah begins on December 25), ADL has once again reached out to public schools and institutions with letters going out to school districts and governments and an updated online guide, The December Dilemma: December Holiday Guidelines for Public Schools.
"More than any other time of year, December poses a unique challenge for public schools and government institutions," said Mr. Foxman. "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."
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 public 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.
The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.