‘Grinch-burg’ no more: Wisconsin city drops Christmas decoration ban for municipal staff

A Milwaukee suburb is “Grinch-burg” no more after a city administrator backtracked Wednesday on a six-day-old email directing employees to shun red and green Christmas displays in favor of “snow people” and the colors of the Northern lights.

Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, city administrator Jim Archambo offered no reason for the pivot other than a desire to “add clarity around” the earlier message. But the about-face came 48 hours after Liberty Counsel, a public policy nonprofit, blasted the city for an “Orwellian and unconstitutional” prohibition.

Melissa Cantarero Weiss, deputy city administrator, sent an email asking employees to “refrain from using religious decorations or [those] solely associated with Christmas (such as red and green colors) when decorating public spaces within city buildings.”

She suggested using non-specific lights and greenery, or the colors blue, green and purple to evoke the Northern lights.

Ms. Weiss’ original email said decorations should be “inclusive” and “equitable” claiming a need to “celebrate the season without favoring any particular belief system.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Archambo wrote employees saying that while “concerns from residents” prompted “city leaders, as a team” to support the Weiss email, her message was not a policy directive, was not a “requirement to decorate or not decorate a certain way,” nor did it tell workers “they cannot bring their full selves to work.”

Employees were not told “they cannot decorate their individual work spaces,” Mr. Archambo wrote.

As with the earlier message, Mr. Archambo, Ms. Weiss, Mayor Dennis McBride and City Attorney Andrew Kesner did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Mr. McBride had said in a message that neither he nor the Common Council “imposed” the earlier directive, and believed the matter would “blow over soon.”

Christmas is a federal holiday in the United States, however, and for years the U.S. Postal Service has issued stamps with religious Christmas themes. President Bill Clinton’s administration stepped in to gain a reversal when the postal agency floated the idea of dropping those stamps.

Citing recent Supreme Court decisions that allow greater participation of religious believers in the public square, Liberty Counsel told the city, “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.”

Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel founder and chairman radiated tidings of comfort and joy after Mr. Archambo’s turn-around.

“Now the city employees can celebrate the Christmas holiday consistent with their faith and the law,” he said in a statement.

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