It’s always good to have a school administrator who respects church/state separation, but it’s possible to get so overzealous about it that you end up blocking perfectly acceptable actions. That’s what happened at Manchester Elementary School in Elkhorn, Nebraska, where Principal Jennifer Sinclair issued a memo telling teachers not to distribute candy canes because they were really a promotion of Christianity.
In her letter, she explained that staffers couldn’t do “any Christmas or holiday-specific themed activities with students.” She didn’t just tell teachers to avoid promoting Jesus (which would have been a sensible reminder); she also told them not to promote Christmas in any real way. According to the Christian Right group Liberty Counsel, her list of forbidden practices was long and descended into parody:
Santas or Christmas items (clipart) 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
To be clear, there’s nothing Jesus-specific about singing “Jingle Bells” or wearing red or green. And the idea that a candy cane is a Christian symbol is basically a Christian meme come to life. (Snopes did a thorough debunking of the idea that candy canes were made to celebrate Jesus.)
Sinclair has been put on administrative leave, at least (I assume) until everyone at FOX News finishes their collective orgasm.
District spokesperson Kara Perchal issued a statement on the matter basically saying the principal is the crazy one, but her rules aren’t district policy:
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.
She added: “As of this morning, Principal Sinclair has been placed on administrative leave. Due to the fact that this is an ongoing personnel issue, the District cannot comment further.”
If we’re being generous, Sinclair’s heart was in the right place. She wanted to make the school inclusive and accommodating for students who weren’t Christian, and that’s a noble gesture. But there’s a difference between the promotion of Christianity and the celebration of what has really become a secular holiday.
She wanted to prevent a paper cut and ended up with a decapitation. She doesn’t deserve to lose her job over this because it wasn’t some kind of intentional anti-Christian bigotry. It was a mistake made in good faith. But good luck getting that through to conservative Christians who rely on a persecution narrative to fuel their holiday spirit.
(Thanks to Scott for the link)