The University of Minnesota has distributed guidelines on how to celebrate the holidays in the most inclusive, bias-free way possible. They've gone a bit overboard in the process, unless you think there's something innately Christian about bells or the color red.
The guidelines—composed by the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences' Diversity and Inclusion Office—ask that students and faculty respect "the diversity of the University community" by hosting "neutral-themed parties such as a 'winter celebration.'" Lest there be any confusion over which decorations are sufficiently generic, the document includes a list of items and images that are "not appropriate" because they represent "specific religious iconography."
That includes the obvious candidates, such nativity scenes, menorahs, and angels. It includes semi-secular symbols, such as Santa Claus. And it includes some items whose religious content is hard to discern at all: red and green decorations ("representative of the Christian tradition"), blue and silver decorations (too Jewish), bows, bells, or wrapped gifts.
If you encounter one of these examples of "religious iconography," you are encouraged to reach out to the University of Minnesota's Bias Incident Website or contact its office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action.
Karl Lorenz, director of diversity programs at the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, stresses to Reason that the guidelines are strictly voluntary.
"The bullet points are offered for consideration," says Lorenz. "They are not mandates."
Because of that voluntary nature, most of the guidelines do not raise constitutional issues, according Ari Cohn of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. The university, he says, can "argue convincingly that parties put on by their units are university speech and it has the right to control the message." He does find troubling the guidelines' instructions that individuals restrict "expressions of their religious faith" to their own personal space, a measure he says is overly broad.
But while Cohn thinks the guidelines are largely legal, they also strike him as "rather ham-fisted and overly cautious."
Indeed, while I have no doubt that the university is sincere about wanting to encourage diversity and inclusion, this push for bland and generic events could have the opposite effect. The university is encouraging faculty and students not to celebrate campus diversity but to suppress any sign of it.
For more analysis of "winter celebrations," watch Kennedy's show on Fox Business tonight at 8:00 p.m., when Reason's Robby Soave will discuss the story in depth.
Photo Credit: Ken Wolter/Dreamstime