Oregon School District Bans Santa Claus In Order To Promote Religious Tolerance

Administrators at an Oregon school district might find themselves on Santa Claus’ Naughty List this Christmas as the Portland-area district has banned the jolly old elf, citing the need for religious tolerance, KATU (Portland) is reporting.

Beth Graser, communications director for the Hillsboro School District, said a memo was sent to teachers this week directing them to refrain from overt religious displays this Christmas season. That includes no depictions of Santa Claus.

“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.”

Graser wants it made clear that the Santa ban applies only to teachers and staff. Kids are not forbidden from talking about Santa Claus or wearing clothes bearing his image, or anything like that.

“It really went out as a notification to staff, not even parents, just to make sure they are being sensitive and thoughtful as they enter the holiday season.”

It is not clear, as of this writing, if any non-Christian children, or parents of non-Christian children, had complained about Santa Claus being portrayed in Hillsboro schools.

Regardless, some parents are outraged.

One parent, who asked not to be identified, said that in his or her day, the idea of a school banning Santa Claus would have been unthinkable.

“I’m from that generation where we believe in Santa, and my kids believe in Santa, and they should be able to celebrate it.”

Parent Jason Ramirez says that a distinction needs to be made between overt religious propaganda and a celebration of tradition and folklore.

“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.”

Ramirez is right, by the way. The Santa Claus as Americans know and love him didn’t even exist until 1823, when poet Clement Clarke Moore took the legend of Saint Nicholas, a 4th-Century Christian saint inextricably linked with gift-giving, and turned him into a “jolly old elf” who brought gifts to good children at Christmas (to be fair, Moore’s version of Santa is itself drawn from similar European traditions of a benevolent figure who brings gifts at Christmas). The image of a fat, bearded Santa in red and white came about largely due to the work of political cartoonist Thomas Nast in the 1880’s.

Oregon Santa
Is Santa Claus a religious symbol or a symbol of folklore? Yes. [Image by RTRO/Shutterstock]

Nevertheless, Santa Claus is inextricably linked to Christmas, so as far as Hillsboro schools are concerned, he’s a Christian religious symbol and thus, isn’t welcome in a public school.

How to deal with Santa Claus is one of many sticky religious issues faced by public schools across the country. Administrators must weigh federal law, which says they must not promote a religion in keeping with the Constitution’s ban on government promoting religion; allow children to express their own religions and cultures, and still acknowledge and respect the cultures and traditions of the schools’ communities. It’s a tough balancing act, and often, parents will complain that their children’s schools went the wrong way in trying to keep that balance.

For example, last year in Minnesota, according to this report by the Inquisitr, Blaine High School’s “holiday” program included a Ramadan song that mentions Allah, the god of Islam, outraging several parents.

Do you think Hillsboro School District made the right decision by banning Santa Claus from the staff’s office decorations and teacher’s classroom decorations during the holiday season?

[Featured Image by Aldo Risolvo/Shutterstock]