Salem Veterans Affair Medical Center managers in Virginia issued a statement to employees this week indicating Christmas trees and specific religious holiday decor would not be allowed in public office spaces this year, according to WSLS -TV on Friday. However, VA representatives quickly rescinded the directive yesterday, after meeting with office employees over backlash to the letter, and managers agreed to let Christmas decorations go up after all.
The letter started out as a simple reminder to employees about "regulations for holiday displays in federal facilities."
Trees, with or without ornaments, "have been deemed to promote the Christian religion and will not be permitted in any public areas," the letter read. The public should not be under the impression the government sponsors or endorses one religion over the other, it stated.
"Employees are permitted to engage in private religious expression in their personal work areas that are not regularly open to the public. Religious expression will be permitted as long as it does not interfere with carrying out of official duties and responsibilities," the letter declared.
Brian Sipp, a Salem VA spokesman, told WSLS the organization sought to find a balance between celebrating the holidays and federal law, after receiving such negative employee feedback to the announcement.
"This is still very new and nothing is defined and definite yet," said Sipp.
Nearly 150 people attended the closed meeting, according to WSLS.
A Christmas tree now will be placed in the office, and will be accompanied by Kwanzaa and Hanukkah symbols, reports indicate.
Matt Curto stated on Facebook: "How idiotic and asinine to not allow Christmas Trees and essentially CHRISTMAS into a hospital where besides church, is the most important place to have God and Jesus Christ, and to celebrate CHRISTMAS to give the Veterans hope and to have a day to be happy. Whoever came up with the idea of banning Christmas Trees SHOULD BE FIRED!"
Holiday music at desks at the Salem VA center is permitted with a supervisor's permission, but users were encouraged to be cognizant of volume and music's ability to travel in office spaces.
"When does it stop???" posed Ohio resident Debbie Carmichael on social media. "In the last 6-8 years, they made us stop prayers in school, take down our flags, more than my mind can keep track of. The Bible says God says there will come a time when the people will stop knowing Him. The end is near. The hospitals should put up trees and decorations, and say Merry Christmas. Make our vets happy. I'm sure they aren't the ones who led the hospital to make this decision."
Joseph Dunkerley posted online: "Every one reading this should get a small tree with a star and a manger and take it there and set it up! This disrespect for GOD and our veterans has got to stop!!! It's really time to retake America and restore our values."
A significant amount of social media comments indicated people do not associate Christmas trees with the true meaning of Christmas. In fact, Kris Mas stated: "A tree is not religious and I don't think any religion worships trees..well except tree huggers. This is so dumb..vets fought for freedom.. Our freedom.. Not freedom of the government to be free to control."