November 22, 2006

'Merry Christmas' as Religious Harassment

"State Employees Told Not to Say 'Merry Christmas.'"

That's the headline on the front page of the November 24 edition of Friday, a weekly newspaper in Oklahoma City. The paper published the contents of a November 14 e-mail sent to all 917 employees of the state Department of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) from an employee named Sandra Trent on behalf of agency director Linda Parker:
The holiday season is fast approaching and I recognize that many of our employees will be celebrating the holidays in their own way. I would just like to remind you that not all of our employees celebrate the same holidays and greetings. "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings" are more appropriate and advisable greetings as opposed to referring to a specific religious holiday.
Yes, I realize it's outrageous, but to be honest with you I can't get too worked up about that yet. I'm still shaking my head saying, "There's such a thing as a Department of Rehabilitation Services? And it has 917 employees?"

Moving right along. The newspaper also published excerpts of a November 2 e-mail sent from a couple of DRS administrators named Jane Nelson and Syedah Islam (I can't help it if that's the person's name, any more than I can help it that Barack Obama's middle name is Hussein). They wrote:
With the holiday season approaching, a number of e-mails sent recently to staff referencing such terms as "prayer" and "God Bless" ... we thought we would take a moment and discuss what we consider inappropriate use ... References to religious rituals such as, prayer, are deemed as unnecessary intrusions on the beliefs of others ... Additionally, "Merry Christmas" falls in [this] category ... Managers are instructed to advise subordinates to refrain from such activities, because it can be deemed as religious harassment and, thus, a cause for disciplinary action, up to an including discharge.
Hmm. Saying "Merry Christmas" can get you fired from a state job? Considering that The Oklahoman reported this year that one state employee "submitted travel claims for dates she was on sick leave, lied to the executive director regarding a contract with a parking garage, tried to give herself a raise in excess of agency policy and lied to the executive director about the increase in salary" and still couldn't manage to get herself fired, firing someone for saying "Merry Christmas" would seem a bit much.

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