A school district in Oregon recently came under fire for circulating a memo banning Santa Claus — as well as any religious imagery — in classroom decorations. As you can imagine, parents are voicing their opinions on both sides of the issue, causing many to ask: Should Santa Claus be allowed in public schools?
Oregon’s Hillsboro school district is at the center of the recent controversy regarding Santa Claus in the classroom. It started when school administrators distributed a memo asking employees to refrain from using religious imagery, or Santa, in their classroom decorations.
“We will not be holding a door decorating contest this year,” read the memo. “You may still decorate your door or office if you like, but we ask that you be respectful and sensitive to the diverse perspectives and beliefs of our community and refrain from using religious-themed decorations or images like Santa Claus.”
The memo was sent to teachers and school staff, not to parents, but it did not take long for parents throughout Oregon — and throughout the country — to weigh in on the issue.
In a year when tempers are already at an all-time high and Americans are divided over issues small and large, it’s no surprise to learn that opinions vary widely on the topic of including Old St. Nick in the classroom.
Jason Ramirez, the parent of a child in the Hillsboro school district noted, “If you’re going to put a giant cross on the window that’s one thing, but I think Santa Claus is more folklore and American history than a religious symbol at this point.”
Cindy Jencks commented commented on the story with a different opinion, “Celebrate diversity by letting everyone decorate the way they want to for the holiday season. Encourage acceptance of people’s differences. Don’t ban religious themes. We are all different and there lies the beauty of it all.”
A 1984 Supreme Court ruling (Lynch vs. Donnelly) found that many of the symbols of Christmas — such as the tree, Santa Claus and even the nativity scene — are secular images that do not advocate a particular religious view. By that standard, images of Santa would be no different than say a shamrock in March or a red leaf in autumn.
But the winter holidays have always hit a special nerve for Americans. And Santa Claus is undeniably a symbol of Christmas, a holiday that is both secular and nonsecular, with roots in both religion and over commercialization.
Personally, I tend to lean toward Jencks’ point of view. Don’t ban Santa from the classroom, bring him on in. But also bring in the menorahs and dreidels and the symbols of Kwanzaa. Teach children about all of the various holidays that people celebrate throughout the year so that everyone feels welcome and included.
Now that would be something to celebrate.