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EXCLUSIVE: 'Ensure Your Holiday Party Is Not a Christmas Party in Disguise,' University's Holiday Guide Warns

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The University of Tennessee, Knoxville Office of Diversity and Inclusion has come up with a list of “best practices” in order to ensure your “inclusive” workplace holiday party is “not a Christmas party in disguise” and that it refrains from being perceived as “endorsing religion generally.”

The “Best Practices for Inclusive Holiday Celebrations in the Workplace” holiday resource guide states that the public university “does not have an official policy regarding religious and cultural décor and celebration in the workplace," however, “we are fully committed to a diverse, welcoming, and inclusive environment.”

In order to “ensure your holiday party is not a Christmas party in disguise,” the Office of Diversity and Inclusion has come up with a list of ways for supervisors to encourage individuals to celebrate their own religions and cultures without allegedly excluding anyone or even being seen as “endorsing religion”:

  • Holiday parties and celebrations should celebrate and build upon workplace relationships and team morale with no emphasis on religion or culture. Ensure your holiday party is not a Christmas party in disguise.
  • Consider having a New Year’s party and include décor and food from multiple religions and cultures. Use it as an opportunity to reinvigorate individuals for the New Year’s goals and priorities.
  • Supervisors and managers should not—as well as, not be perceived as—endorsing religion generally or a specific religion.
  • If an individual chooses not to participate in a holiday party or celebration, do not pressure the person to participate. Participation should be voluntary.
  • If a potluck-style party or celebration is planned, encourage employees to bring food items that reflect their personal religions, cultures, and celebrations. Use this as an opportunity for individuals to share what they brought and why it is meaningful to them.
  • If sending holiday cards to campus and community partners, send a non-denominational card or token of your gratitude.
  • Holiday parties and celebrations should not play games with religious and cultural themes. For example, “Dreidel” or “Secret Santa.” If you want to exchange gifts, then refer to it in a general way, such as a practical joke gift exchange or secret gift exchange.
  • Décor selection should be general, not specific to any religion or culture. Identify specific dates when décor can be put up and when it must come down.
  • Refreshment selection should be general, not specific to any religion or culture.
  • Most importantly, celebrate your religious and cultural holidays in ways that are respectful and inclusive of our students, your colleagues, and our university.

Although the theme of the guide seems to be ensuring that supervisors are not accused of endorsing any particular religion or even “endorsing religion generally,” some of the suggestions—such as telling employees to bring in religious refreshments and asking for an explanation of their religious significance and including decor from “multiple religions”—are generally considered endorsing the idea of religion.

At the same time, putting up decor from “multiple religions” and asking employees to bring in religious food contradicts the idea that refreshments and food should be “general, not specific to any religion or culture.”

It is not clear whether the suggestion for decor from “multiple religions” and asking employees to bring in religious food means Christians cannot include decor and food related to Christmas or whether that goes against the “Christmas party in disguise” rule.

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville Office of Diversity and Inclusion recently hit headlines for its “gender-neutral pronoun guide.”

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