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The Grinch’s appetite to devour Christmas remains so unsatiated, he is now turning his joy-sucking efforts toward Hanukkah and other faiths’ holiday observances.
King County, Washington, where Seattle sits, is banning its employees from displaying any symbols of Christmas or Hanukkah when working from home, according to a recent article. The King County policy bans employees from including holiday decorations such as nativity scenes, crosses and menorahs, and even extends the ban to the dharma wheel, crescent and star, aum, khanda, and a nine-pointed star.
The hammer and sickle, however, is apparently still allowed.
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This ban extends to "virtual" workspaces, which, of course, include what is visible when one logs on to a Zoom from home.
Washington state bureaucrats want to ban religious symbols at work. (do seongyun via Getty Images)
The bureaucratic drive to eradicate all individualism and creativity and create a bland dystopian landscape glorifying secularism seems to have no limits. What was once cast as an effort to protect the feelings of those of minority faiths now reveals its true self – acknowledgment of anything beyond the temporal is forbidden. It was never about Christmas, as such. The State, personified as the faceless bureaucrat who wrote this bizarre policy, dislikes any challenge to its ultimate power and authority, especially any acknowledgment that there is some level of spiritual authority that transcends the State itself.
This is exactly why federal law passed by Congress and signed by the president in 1964, known as the Civil Rights Act, forbid the kind of workplace discrimination enacted by King County. Under the Civil Rights Act, an employer such as King County must accommodate the religious practices of its employees unless doing so causes an undue hardship on the employer. If an employee has a sincerely held religious belief to celebrate a holiday in their home workspace and requests his or her employer accommodate that religious practice, the employer must normally do so. Here, King County must accommodate its employees when they decorate their home offices with religious symbols and there is no discernible reason such an accommodation would cause King County any hardship.
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As recently as 2018, the state Supreme Court of Washington, also found that government employers cannot infringe on the free speech rights of its employees absent a "legitimate interest." In Sprague v. Spokane Valley Fire Department, the court upheld the right of a firefighter to include religious messages in emails despite using a government owned message system, recognizing that, "[i]t is well settled that public employees do not surrender their First Amendment rights to speak freely on matters of public concern merely because they are employed by a public." Further specifically finding that "[t]he ‘State may not discharge or otherwise discipline an employee on a basis that infringes upon that employee's constitutionally protected interest in freedom of speech.’"
Of course, King County’s outrageous ban on home holiday decorations is ridiculous as a policy matter. The secular state has nothing to fear from the menorah or the dharma wheel, particularly if those displays are within the home of the employee and simply in the background of a Zoom call. But the ban is a serious infringement on the religious freedom of county employees.
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If any county employees in King County – or any government employee who feels their religious liberty rights are being violated – would like to seek a religious accommodation to display a religious item on the banned list, whatever their faith, they should seek legal counsel. We at First Liberty Institute have won numerous cases across the country restoring the religious liberty rights of Americans, including several who have faced similar Grinch-like attacks.
While we hope leaders in King County come to their senses and reverse this illegal and ridiculous policy, it may require legal action to bring diversity to the bland world of King County.
Hiram Sasser is general counsel for First Liberty Institute, where he oversees First Liberty’s litigation and media efforts.