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Religious Decorations in Campus: Banning Reasons Essay

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Updated: May 19th, 2020

Introduction

It has come to my attention that the university does not have a strict policy on the displaying of religious decorations around the campus grounds. Consequently, students and staff members are at liberty to put up religious decorations to mark their various religious celebrations and holidays. This practice is harmful considering the fact that the university is an institution that is founded on secular values. I therefore wish to provide a comprehensive discussion on why decorations for religious holidays should be prohibited on campus ground. Considering that this view is supported by other respectable universities, I will give a number of similar policies in universities around the world to support why our university should support the same policy.

Why Religious Holidays Decorations Should Be Disallowed

The educational system promoted in the United States is secular in nature and a separation between religion and education facilities is desired. Specifically, the university is a secular institution serving students and staff of varied religious backgrounds. Fairness demands that the institution should not endorse a particular religion but rather maintain a neutral stance to all religions. Members of the campus are to be treated with respect regardless of their religion and every person is to be tolerant to religious views that might be different from theirs. Display of religious decorations on campus grounds might create the impression that the university endorses a particular religion.

Allowing decorations on campus grounds sends the message that the particular religious holiday is of significance to the society. A reasonable observer is therefore likely to assume that the decorations are a sign that the school administration endorses the particular religion. This is especially so when the major world religions are given preference over minor religions. When this happens, religious decorations fail to create a neutral public face since those decorations “serve to support one world view – whether religious, cultural or social – and unavoidably treat people with other world views in an unequal and detrimental manner” (Tonya, 2005, p.139).

Display of religious decorations may have the undesirable effect of promoting certain religions in the educational institution. The constitution allows secular institutions to recognize festivals of a cultural or religious nature. However, the decorations may be used as a tool for promoting certain religious ideas. This is a valid fear considering that the major objective of many religions is to win over more converts. The neutral position of the educational institution will therefore be compromised when religious decorations are used to influence students and staff in the campus to follow or view a certain religion favorably.

Decorations for religious holiday inadvertently lead to questions being asked concerning the nature of the holiday. The public display of religious symbols will act as a platform for the followers of the religion to talk about their beliefs to the community. Followers of the religion may take up this opportunity to present their religion in a subjective manner. Preventing religious decorations from being displayed on campus grounds will ensure that members of a religion who might use the publicity provided by the decorations to promote their faith in the University are unable to engage in such activities.

Religious decorations create partiality among the members of the educational institute. All members of the campus have the right to express themselves. Most supporters of religious decorations on campus grounds argue that any restriction to displaying the decorations amounts to a denial of these freedoms. Institutions that act in response to this opinion end up creating a divided community where religious affiliations are given significant power. While it is true that all members of the campus have a right to express themselves, this expression should not be done at the expense of equality. Tonya (2005) asserts, “Freedom of expression is outweighed by the ethics of impartiality” (p.139). Ethics does not allow unlimited preference for a religious group, irrespective of its history or huge membership in the campus.

The University may break the law by allowing the display of religious decorations on campus grounds. For public universities, the buildings and campus grounds are public property. Huebner (2008) states that in the recent past, lawsuits over religious holiday decorations in public places have increased (p.20). A number of high profile cases have been brought before the US Supreme Court regarding holiday decorations in public places. Huebner (2008) notes that the guidelines provided by the courts with regard to this issue have been inconsistent and there is no well-defined standard of what religious decorations violate the law of the land. As such, the school administration might find it hard to decide on which holiday displays are consistent with the law. There is no well-defined standard of these acceptable decorations and the requirements only vaguely suggest that the decorations must promote pluralism and they must not endorse or debase any religion. Because of the lack of consistency on issues concerning display of religious decorations, it would be more prudent for the university to prohibit all religious decorations on campus ground.

Religious decorations encourage exclusion, which is an undesirable attribute in our multicultural and heterogeneous society. While most religions promote admirable values such as love, honesty, and charity, they tend to divide people into insiders and outsiders. Members of a religion are bound together by a set of common beliefs and practices. Owing to their unique beliefs and practices, followers of a particular religion may begin to view themselves as better informed compared to non-believers. This might lead to discrimination based on religious affiliations and increase divisions among community members. Religious decorations accentuate the differences between those who celebrate religious holidays and those who do not. The non-participants are excluded creating the perception of segregation. A secular approach is integral to the value of equality in the country. The university should therefore discourage decorations for religious holidays in order to promote inclusion in the society.

Religious decorations do not promote the goal of diversity that the university hopes to perpetuate. Religions are based on the concept of shared common beliefs among followers. They therefore promote conformity since members of the religion are expected to act in a uniform manner. The university is an education university created to serve individuals coming from different races, cultures, and religions. The campus should therefore promote diversity among this heterogeneous group of students and staff. Religions decorations will imply that the institution favors certain religions and cultures over others. This is contrary to the goals of diversity endorsed by the institution. Banning religious decorations on campus grounds will ensure that diversity is respected since all religions and cultures are treated equally.

Policies by Other Universities

The appropriateness of religious decorations on campus grounds has been debated in many universities around the world and a number of policies have been proposed. Every member of the university is expected to be familiar with the policies on religious holidays and act in a manner that is compliant with these policies.

Oregon State University (2012) declares that any religious decorations on campus ground must not convey a singular religious message. The decorations must be presented in such a manner that the overall message sent to the observer is one of diversity and religious tolerance rather than the support of a particular religion or faith. The university also asserts that a strong distinction is to be made between private and public spaces and religious decorations should be displayed in private space where it is clear that they are an expression of the individual rather than an endorsement of the institution (Oregon State University, 2012).When putting up decorations, focus should be placed on the season instead of the particular religious holidays. Images that are neutral and not associated with religious traditions are to be used since they are more inclusive and respectful of the diversity of the University (Oregon State University, 2012).

The University of Wisconsin La Crosse (2012) states that holiday decorations can only be displayed on campus grounds if they are deemed secular symbols. Any holiday display that explicitly celebrates a certain religion is prohibited on campus grounds since it might be presumed to be an endorsement of the particular religion by the University (UWLAX, 2012). The University of Wisconsin La Crosse also states that all university staff and students are allowed to display religious holiday decorations in their private spaces. A prohibition on the right of individuals to display decorations in their private space within the campus is a violation of their freedom of expression. However, religious decorations must not be displayed in the offices of high-ranking university officials since such symbols may be taken to mean that this is the official stand of the University concerning the particular religious celebration.

UWLAX (2012) specifies that the university should endeavor to promote pluralism and freedom through any religious decorations. As such, holiday displays can only be accepted if they include symbols from different religious traditions and therefore do not represent an endorsement of “any particular religion or religion in general” (UWLAX, 2012, p.1). Use of religious and secular symbols is preferred to using strictly religious symbols for decoration.

The policy by the University of Guelph (2012) states that the institute is prohibited from endorsing any religion and no University funds shall be used to fund any religious holiday preparations. Individuals are to make their own arrangements for their religious decorations within their private spaces. All members of the university must demonstrate sensitivity to each other’s disparate views concerning religious holidays.

Conclusion

The presence of religious decorations on campus grounds is detrimental to the values of neutrality, inclusion, and diversity promoted by the university. If these decorations are disallowed, the campus will be able to demonstrate neutrality and at the same time treat all religious or cultural events in an equal manner. Prohibition of religious decorations will help cultivate a pluralistic outlook that is desirable in the multi-cultural and diverse society that we live in. Harmony and tolerance will therefore be promoted by a restriction of religious decorations around our campus grounds.

References

Huebner, R. (2008). Legal Q & A Holiday Decorations on Public Property. Illinois Municipal Review, 12(3), 20-22. Web.

Oregon State University. (2012). Guidelines for Holiday Decorations. Web.

The University of Wisconsin La Crosse (UWLAX). (2012). Display of Christmas Trees and Religious Holiday Symbols on Campus. Web.

Tonya, L. (2005). APLIS, 18(4), 137-140. Web.

University of Guelph. (2012). . Web.

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