Salem, Virginia veterans’ hospital bans Christmas trees

SALEM (WSLS 10) – Christmas trees will not be allowed at the Salem VA Medical Center this holiday season in public areas.

“Displays must not promote any religion. Please note that 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,” reads an email sent to employees. “Employees are permitted to engage in private religious expression in their personal work areas that are not regularly open to the public. Religious expression will be permitted as long as it does not interfere with carrying out of official duties and responsibilities.”

The letter explains “When the public (Veterans and beneficiaries) accesses the Federal workplace, their reasonable impression should be that the government is not sponsoring or endorsing on religion over another.”

Brian Sipp, a Salem VA spokesman says after the initial message was sent out they received a lot of backlash and emails and now they are trying to find a balance between celebrating the holidays and federal law.

“This is still very new and nothing is defined and definite yet,” said Sipp.

There is an employee meeting today.

Several employees and veterans have called WSLS 10 with their concerns.

The email reads:

At this time of year, it is appropriate to be reminded of the various regulations for holiday displays in federal facilities.

When the public (Veterans and beneficiaries) accesses the Federal workplace, their reasonable impression should be that the government is not sponsoring or endorsing on religion over another.

The Salem VAMC Executive Leadership Team wishes to extend our wishes for a happy holiday season in a manner that is welcoming to all. To that end, public areas may only be decorated in a manner that is celebratory of the winter season. Displays must not promote any religion. Please note that 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.

Employees are permitted to engage in private religious expression in their personal work areas that are not regularly open to the public. Religious expression will be permitted as long as it does not interfere with carrying out of official duties and responsibilities. Items must be displayed in a manner such that the viewing public would reasonably understand the religious expression to be that of the employee acting in their own personal capacity and not of the government itself. If an employee’s supervisor has previously granted them permission to listen to music in their personal work area, they should be reminded that music travels and should be secular (non-religious) and appropriate to the work environment.

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