The University of Maine is hastily playing defense after an email surfaced this week in which a campus administrator prohibited staff from showing Christmas or Hannukah decorations in public places.
The suppressed items include wreaths, Christmas trees, menorahs, and even candy canes.
In the email, originally sent Monday but since more widely distributed, UMaine director of auxiliary services Daniel Stirrup told school staff “not to decorate any public areas with Christmas or any other religious themed decorations. Winter holiday decorations are fine but we need to not display any decoration that could be perceived as religious. This includes xmas trees, wreaths, xmas presents, candy canes, etc.”
Certain decorations were allowed, provided they were sufficiently whitewashed of anything remotely holiday-related. Tolerated decorations included “plain trees without presents underneath, decorative lights, but not on trees, snow flakes, etc..”
The news was initially reported by local television station WABI 5, which also reported that workers at the campus bookstore had been told to refrain from using the phrase “Merry Christmas.”
On Thursday, the school tried to stem a growing backlash by releasing a statement saying that no types of decorations were banned.
“The university makes every effort to ensure that all members – students, employees, alumni and the public – feel included and welcome on campus. Decorations on the UMaine campus are therefore reflective of the diversity found in our community,” said the university’s statement.
“I can confidently tell you that there are thousands of people at UMaine today saying ‘Merry Christmas’ to thousands of other people,” said dean of students Robert Dana. “We welcome displays of religious symbols in public spaces and residence hall rooms. We don’t advocate one religion over another.” Dana also said on a local radio program that the original crackdown was a flawed attempt to make the university’s holidays more “inclusive.”
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