Liberty Counsel sent a demand letter to the City of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, regarding its unconstitutional ban on Christmas holiday symbols, decorations, and expressions within public buildings and by its employees. City officials directed employees in an email to create an “inclusive” environment for all by refraining “from using religious decorations” that are “solely associated with Christmas,” such as red and green colors, when decorating public spaces in city buildings. Liberty Counsel demands the immediate retraction of the ban.
City Administrator Jim Archambo and Deputy City Administrator Melissa Cantarero Weiss sent the email emphasizing the need to be “inclusive” and “equitable” a combined nine times. Despite acknowledging that Christmas is a significant holiday for many, the administrators stated the need to “foster a more equitable and inclusive community” for those who don’t celebrate Christmas and required that decorations be “neutral” and “celebrate the season without favoring any particular belief system.”
Archambo and Weiss provided a list of acceptable decorations:
- “Winter wonderland – snowflakes, snow people [sic], and other non-religious symbols associated with winter.
2. Lights and greenery – festive lighting and greenery can create a warm and welcoming atmosphere without specific religious connotations.
3. Northern lights – draw inspiration from the aurora borealis and incorporate colors like blue, green, and purple.”
Liberty Counsel’s letter states, “The Christmas holiday ban violates the U.S. Constitution by showing hostility toward Christianity. The First Amendment does not permit the City to eliminate Christmas holiday symbols or expression in a misguided attempt to be ‘inclusive’ by eliminating all traditional elements of expression regarding a federally and state recognized holiday.”
The administrators’ ban on Christmas decorations is unlawful especially considering three recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Shurtleff v. City of Boston, Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, and Groff v. DeJoy.
These three cases ruled that it is unlawful to censor religious expression, buried the “Lemon Test” formerly used to remove religious symbols and displays from the public square, and strengthened Title VII protections for employees regarding religious discrimination.
For instance, in Liberty Counsel’s 9-0 victory in Shurtleff, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the City of Boston violated the First Amendment by censoring a private flag in a public forum open to “all applicants” merely because the application referred to it as a “Christian flag.” According to the Court’s reasoning in Shurtleff, a city then cannot encourage employees to decorate spaces for holidays at employee discretion and then censor religious viewpoints on the holiday. Liberty Counsel further states that due to the Kennedycase, a city cannot treat “everything a government employee expresses in the workplace as government speech subject to government control” and therefore, cannot transform their speech into government speech. In both Shurtleff and Kennedy, the Court rejected attempts to censor religious speech and eliminated the “Lemon Test.” And under Groff, an employer who discriminates against employees on account of religion has a much higher burden to argue that the employee cannot be accommodated.
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “The Christmas decoration ban by the City of Wauwatosa is Orwellian and unconstitutional. The City’s ban is exclusive, not ‘inclusive.’ The ban excludes all those who celebrate the Christmas holiday consistent with their faith. How absurd is it to ban red and green during December? What were these City officials thinking? The City must retract their ban and comply with the law.”