Virginia-based Salem Veterans Affairs Medical Center reversed its decision to ban Christmas trees in public spaces after sparking uproar among veterans and staff.
“Trees (regardless of the types of ornaments used) have been deemed to promote the Christian religion and will not be permitted in any public areas this year,” stated hospital administrators in an email to workers the week ending Nov. 20.
“I don’t look at the tree as the birth of Christ, I don’t,” veteran Vicki Jackson told NBC affiliate WSLS. “I look at it as a tree being decorated with ornaments."
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The Rev. John Sines, Jr. of Rock Pike Baptist Church in Forest, Virginia also held issue with the ban, stating that all he wanted to do was entertain veterans.
“My agenda wasn’t so I could push Jesus on the veterans,” he said. “I just wanted to honor the veterans and to say thank-you.”
Management and staff members reportedly held a closed meeting on Nov. 20, shortly after the uproar started. They decided to allow Christmas tree in public areas, as long as holidays by other faiths were also celebrated. For example, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah decorations must also be present alongside Christmas trees.
Salem VAMC said in a statement:
“This compromise allows for the Salem VAMC to be in full compliance with Federal mandates that prohibit US government facilities, including the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, from ‘favoring one religion over another’ while providing the diversity and flexibility for employees and Veterans to celebrate the holidays according to their individual faith structure."
The move follows a series of incidents in which many organizations are trying to steer away from celebrating only the Christian holiday.
Earlier this season, Starbucks' plain red holiday cups devoid of Christmas decorations stirred similar controversy, causing mixed reactions — some stating this was a part of a larger “war on Christmas”.
Others like Paul Raushenbush, executive editor of Global Spirituality and Religion at The Huffington Post, feel differently:
“For a long, long time Christianity was dominant in the United States," Raushenbush wrote in The Huffington Post. "But America is about the people who are here now, and that is a much more diverse group … It is time to stop insisting that everything revolves around us."