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Some city employees have been left confused after an email was sent to public employees in the city of Wauwatosa, WI, instructing them to avoid Christmas decorations during the upcoming Christmas season. Media outlet Wisconsin Right Now obtained an email allegedly written by Wauwatosa Deputy City Administrator Melissa Cantarero Weiss. Weiss sent the email to city employees, stating, “As the holiday season approaches, Mr. Archambo and I ask that you take some time to reflect on our commitment to creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for all residents and visitors to our buildings, as well as our co-workers.” Mr. Archambo is the City Administrator. 

Weiss noted that “currently, Christmas decorations are prevalent throughout public counters at City Hall and perhaps other buildings as well.” While noting the “significance” of Christmas to many, Weiss encouraged employees to remember that not all their co-workers or the residents of the city felt the same way. “In our ongoing efforts to foster a more equitable and inclusive community, we believe it is crucial to be considerate of how we decorate public spaces during this season.” Weiss asked departments to discontinue the use of religious and holiday-specific colors like red and green. She then listed a number of ways employees could be more inclusive in their decorations, such as in creating winter wonderlands that utilized snow imagery over religious symbols, “festive lighting and greenery” that is “without specific religious imagery,” and drawing on colors from the Northern Lights. “By embracing inclusive decorating practices, we can reinforce our commitment to being a more equitable and welcoming place for all people who live in Wauwatosa…Your cooperation in helping to meet this goal is appreciated,” Weiss wrote towards the end of her email. 

After the email was leaked, it received swift pushback. Liberty Counsel, a non-profit law firm, called the ban “unconstitutional.” “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,” the group said in a letter to Archambo. Mayoral candidate Ald Meindl criticized the email as a waste of time. “Why are holiday colors a priority for city leadership with so many other pressing issues we face as a city?” he wrote in a Facebook comment. The reactions from citizens of Wauwatosa have been mixed. A CBS local affiliate featured a man named Daniel Gugula who put up red and green lights with a message, which was blurred out, stating that excluding Christmas in order to be more inclusive was “ironic.” He stated real inclusivity would mean incorporating decorations from other faiths, not removing them. “As a community, we’re better together, and we’re better because of our differences. So, we actually should be embracing even more diversity,” he said. Others interviewed outside a public library were more understanding of the ban. Kelsey Burke, a library patron, said, “I think in private homes, private businesses, you can represent how you want, but in a public setting, to represent one religion or culture over another would not be fair to the community.” 

Wauwatosa mayor Denis McBride responded to the controversy by supporting the decision. “Jesus said, ‘Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s’ (Matthew 22:15-22, Mark 12:13-17). Our job as a city government is to provide municipal services. There is no Republican way to plow the snow or a Democratic way to pick up the garbage,” he wrote. He went on to note the diversity of his community and how a Christian might feel awkward in a public space decorated with Islamic decorations. “At this time, a horrible war is being fought in the Middle East over religion. In this country, we have generally avoided religious conflict by welcoming people from all over the world and from every faith. Let us all work together for the cause of peace,” he concluded. 

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