ADL Offers Schools Guidance for Negotiating the December Dilemma
New York, NY, November 16, 1999 … School districts and teachers perennially 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.
As a guardian of the constitutional guarantee of the separation of church and state, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) routinely offers advice and guidelines to teachers, school districts and parents to help them successfully negotiate the "December Dilemma." At this time of year the League fields more requests for guidance on church-state issues than at any other period.
"The complexity of the December Dilemma can make the holidays anything but bright for school administrators," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. "By offering our guidance and expertise, ADL heightens awareness of the sensitivities surrounding the holidays, while helping districts to steer clear of actions that cross the line between secular observance and religious indoctrination."
In a letter to school districts now being disseminated through the ADL's 30 regional offices nationwide, the League emphasizes that because school children are particularly impressionable and susceptible to pressure to conform their beliefs to that of the majority, schools must be careful in how they employ religious symbols and teach about the holidays. "By choosing to celebrate certain religious holidays," the letter states, "schools run the risk of sending the message that they favor certain faiths over others."
The courts have imposed limitations on school holiday activities. While teachers may instruct students about the historical, contemporary and cultural aspects of Christmas and other religious holidays, celebrating holidays with worship or other traditional practices is prohibited. School officials must also ensure that religious symbols such as crosses, crèches and menorahs are not displayed in a manner that suggests public school endorsement of religion.
ADL offers several resources for guidance, including the handbook Religion in the Public Schools: Guidelines for a Growing and Changing Phenomenon and a full-color poster, ABC's of Religion in the Public Schools. Both are available online at www.adl.org.
EDITORS NOTE: To receive ADL materials or to arrange an interview with an ADL expert on the separation of church and state, religious symbols in the public domain or the observance of religious holidays in public schools, call ADL Media Relations Department at (212) 885-7749.
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.