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2. Chase orders Southlake bank to remove Christmas tree

12/02/2010 11:40 PM

12/31/2010 5:28 PM

SOUTHLAKE -- Chase Bank told a Texas businessman to remove the Christmas tree he donated to a local branch because it could offend people.

Antonio Morales, owner of Bellagio Day Spa in Southlake northeast of Fort Worth had assembled and decorated a 9-foot-tall tree in the lobby of the Chase Bank branch at 1700 E. Southlake Boulevard as a favor to the branch manager, who is one of his clients.

The tree remained in the lobby from the Monday before Thanksgiving until Tuesday. Morales said his friend called him Wednesday to tell him the tree had to go. She later showed him an e-mail from JPMorgan Chase saying that the tree had to be removed because some people were offended by it.

The bank referred questions to corporate offices.

Greg Hassell, a JPMorgan Chase spokesman, said that the company's policy isn't anti-Christmas. "People wish their customers merry Christmas when it's appropriate," he said.

However, to ensure that everyone who visits Chase branches feels welcome and comfortable, the bank's policy is to use only decorations supplied by the company.

"We appreciate the thoughtful gesture from Mr. Morales," Hassell said. "Unfortunately, we're unable to keep it [the tree] on display for the remainder of the holiday season." JPMorgan Chase ensures that decorations are "something everyone is comfortable with, regardless of how they celebrate the season," Hassell said.

But others see the tree as a symbol of the season.

A spokeswoman at Trinity Bank in Fort Worth said it has had a tree in its lobby since the Friday after Thanksgiving.

"I've been in this business more than 30 years, and every place I've worked we've put up a Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving," said Linda Robertson, assistant vice president.

Bryan Fischer, director of issue analysis for the American Family Association, called Chase's decision absurd.

"According to Advertising Age, 91 percent of American people celebrate Christmas," Fischer said. "That means that the single most inoffensive thing you can do at this time of year is wish someone a merry Christmas."

Fischer said that companies that have gotten away from acknowledging Christmas claim that they do it because they want to be inclusive.

"The most inclusive thing you can do is wish someone merry Christmas," he said. "This means that Chase is running the risk of offending far more people by disrespecting Christmas than they are by honoring it."

Hassell said that the Southlake branch was supplied with stickers that resemble Christmas lights. Company-supplied decorations vary at other branches, he said.

"Normally they're small, not intrusive. I'm not sure this [Morales'] Christmas tree was intrusive. That's not really the issue here. It isn't a company-supplied decoration."

Hassell said the policy has been around for a few years, and that decorations change every year.

Morales said that he enjoys the Christmas season so much that he decorated 35 trees at his home.

"I'm known for my Christmas trees," he said.

In fact, Morales shared his talent this season with his landlord, a plastic surgeon.

"I put a tree up in his office," he said. "It doesn't offend him, and he's Jewish."

Terry Evans, 817-390-7620

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