New York, NY, December 8, 2008 … As part of its annual outreach to public schools and town governments on the observance of the December holidays, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is providing information and workshops on negotiating "The December Dilemma."
In letters sent to school districts nationwide and in materials distributed through ADL's 30 regional offices, the League is sharing information on how to keep public recognition of the December holidays respectful, welcoming and in keeping with the religious freedom safeguards in the Constitution.
"Every year there are questions from school districts about how they can properly acknowledge the December holidays – including Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanzaa – with sensitivity and respect for everyone in the community," said Deborah Lauter, ADL Civil Rights Director. "Schools and governments have a responsibility to ensure that they maintain respectful, open and welcoming environments for all of their community members."
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 schools comply with the Constitution and create a school environment that celebrates diversity by respecting different points of view concerning religion.
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 – among them Christmas trees, menorahs, reindeers and snowmen;
Choosing appropriate holiday activities;
Understanding what can – and cannot – be displayed on government property.
In some areas of the country, the League has followed up by hosting programs for teachers, parents and school administrators to discuss issues such as making holiday ornaments in art classes, winter holiday programs, choral programs that may include religious music, and the challenge students or parents face when asked to give presentations about Jewish holidays to a largely non-Jewish class.
The League offers a detailed explanation of the issues on its Web site, which has a section devoted to "The December Dilemma – December Holiday Guidelines for Public Schools" as well as information on religion and church-state separation in the public schools.
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.