Liberty Counsel — a law firm focused on religious freedom — caught wind of a Nebraska elementary school principal who banned a long list of Christmas-related items.
What kinds of items, you ask? Liberty Counsel provided a memo from principal Jennifer Sinclair that spelled out in detail all the verboten paraphernalia at Manchester Elementary School in Omaha:
- Santas or Christmas items (clip art) on worksheets
- Christmas trees in classrooms
- Elf on the Shelf — that's Christmas-related
- Singing Christmas carols
- Playing Christmas music
- Sending a Scholastic book that is a Christmas book — that's Christmas-related
- Making a Christmas ornament as a gift —This assumes that the family has a Christmas tree which assumes they celebrate Christmas. I challenge the thought of, "Well they can just hang it somewhere else."
- Candy Cane — that's Christmas-related. Historically, the shape is a "J" for Jesus. The red is for the blood of Christ, and the white is a symbol of his resurrection. This would also include different colored candy canes.
- Red/Green items — traditional Christmas colors
- Christmas videos/movies and/or characters from Christmas movies
Students John Siebler of Fort White, Florida, and Mary Ellen Stroh, of Midland, Michigan, dress up as Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus and appear for local children during the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School workshop on Oct. 17, 2008, in Midland, Michigan. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
What was the principal's reasoning?
Sinclair — who's in her first year as Manchester's principal — noted in the memo that she "come[s] from a place that Christmas and the like are not allowed in schools" and that "as a public school" Manchester Elementary will be seek to be "inclusive and culturally sensitive to all of our students."
"I have unknowingly awoken a 'sleeping giant' with many of you," she added. "I apologize for the stress that 'Christmas/holiday/ Grinch/Santa/tree' emails and conversations have caused you."
What items were allowed?
The "acceptable practices" included:
- Gifts to students
- Students making a gift for a loved one
- Snowmen, snow women, snow people, snowflakes
- Gingerbread people
- Holidays Around the World — purposeful presentation of information to teach about different cultures
- Hot chocolate
- Polar Bears
- Scarves, boots, earmuffs, and hats
- Olaf — "Frozen"
Yetis are abominable snowmen (er, snow people, if we're being careful), and Olaf is a snowman from the movie "Frozen."
Olaf from Disney's "Frozen" debuts as a giant balloon during Macy's Balloonfest ahead of the 91st annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on Nov. 4, 2017, in East Rutherford City, New Jersey.(Photo by Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Macy's)
"Please reflect on what you've already copied, prepped and posted," Sinclair concluded. "I'm hopeful we can avoid the discomfort of me directly questioning something you've copied, posted and had your kids do. That makes me uncomfortable, and I know it doesn't feel good." She signed the memo, "The (Unintentional) Grinch who stole Christmas (from Manchester)."
What happened next?
Liberty Counsel sent a demand letter to the superintendent of Elkhorn Public Schools about the Christmas ban, urging it to "immediately overrule and specifically disavow the sweeping directive banning Christmas holiday items, and require Principal Sinclair to undertake review of District policy and the law."
How did the district respond?
Believe it or not, the district's response to Liberty Counsel said it had "investigated this matter and determined that Principal Sinclair's memorandum did not comply with Board Policy" and that Manchester staffers were advised that "certain Christmas symbols" are permissible.
What did Liberty Counsel have to say?
"We are pleased that Elkhorn Public Schools promptly reversed Principal Jennifer Sinclair's unconstitutional directive, and required compliance with the Constitution," Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said in a statement. "The First Amendment does not require elimination of Christmas. Nothing prohibits public schools from teaching objectively about Christmas or other holidays with religious significance, from displaying religious and secular Christmas symbols side-by-side or singing sacred and secular Christmas songs together. The First Amendment prohibits censorship based on religious viewpoint. This outrageous three-page memo by Principal Sinclair was not based on ignorance of the law but hatred toward Christianity and Christmas. Principal Sinclair should issue an apology to her teachers and staff."
UPDATE, 1:28 p.m. Dec. 6: A school district spokesperson told TheBlaze that Sinclair issued an apology. The spokesperson also noted the district's statement on the matter: "Elkhorn Public Schools District administration promptly addressed the issue at Manchester Elementary School regarding the memo that was sent by the principal to Manchester elementary staff. The memo does not reflect the policy of Elkhorn Public Schools regarding holiday symbols in the school. The District has since clarified expectations and provided further direction to staff in alignment with District policy. This issue was limited to Manchester Elementary School and did not arise at any other schools within the District."
This story has been updated to include the district's statement on the matter and to note that the principal issued an apology.