Can I Make My Workplace Stop the Christmas Music on Religious-Freedom Grounds?

A quick Google search for “nonreligious Christmas carols” will turn up reams of playlists specifically designed to help employers fend off objections from the likes of you.

My workplace is currently playing all Christmas music. Can I make them stop simply because the music is terrible? If not, can I make them stop on the same religious-freedom grounds that make it illegal for them to have mandatory Christian prayers? —Miserable Under Mistletoe

I feel a little guilty, Miserable, since (as you know) you sent this message over a year ago. By now, you’ve probably killed your boss, torched the shop, and gone on a six-state murder spree, so you don’t care anymore. But for the benefit of others in the same predicament, I’ll furnish the answer to these (and many other) questions: You’re screwed.

You may be surprised to learn you’re far from the first person to notice that Christmas’ (nominally) denominational aspect might present a problem for the HR department. This is why a quick Google search for “nonreligious Christmas carols” will turn up reams of playlists specifically designed to help employers fend off objections from the likes of you.

For example, your boss is on rock-solid ground with that genre of holiday carols that focus on the season rather than the holiday itself: There’s zero religious content to be found in frost-rimmed classics like “Winter Wonderland,” “Sleigh Ride,” “Let It Snow” and even “Jingle Bells.” (Also “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” assuming you don’t consider sexual assault a religious practice.)

“Sure,” I hear you saying, “but how many carols don’t mention Christmas at all? Maybe a dozen?” To that I would reply that if you think an employer can’t make a monthslong playlist out of a dozen (or fewer) songs, you’ve never worked retail. But it doesn’t matter anyway because hundreds of songs that do mention Christmas are effectively secular because they treat it as a generic celebration, devoid of content. Good luck convincing a jury you feel religiously oppressed by “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”—it could just as easily be “I’ll Be Home for Taco Night.”

In any case, the U.S. Supreme Court has held (in a case I’m going to call Grinch v. Nordstrom) that even overtly religious music is perfectly legal for private employers to play if they want to. “Perfectly legal” is not the same as “no one’s going to complain,” and many retailers probably nix “Away in a Manger” in favor of “Silver Bells” just to play it safe. Your legal options are nil either way, so you might as well get used to it. Look on the bright side; at least it’s been a while since we heard “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.”

Questions? Send them to dr.know@wweek.com.