The Rick Perry holiday law is supposed to protect celebrations of Christmas and other holidays in state public schools from legal challenges.
The law is already controversial because some say the legislation violates the concept of separation of church and state. Texas was already going down this path because a judge said Texas cheerleaders could display Biblical messages in high school football games. Of course, most people don’t understand separation of church and state, the Founding Father’s vision and meaning, nor that it is not in the U.S. Constitution.
The Rick Perry holiday law, HB 308, called the Merry Christmas bill will allow religious symbols and traditional religious greetings in government institutions, including public schools.
Fox News/AP: Austin, TX – Surrounded by sleigh bell-ringing Santa Claus impersonators, Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday signed a law protecting Christmas and other holiday celebrations in Texas public schools from legal challenges – but also stressed that freedom of religion is not the same thing as freedom from religion.
It was a serious tone for an otherwise fun bill-signing and should bolster the governor’s Christian conservative credentials before he travels to Washington for the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority” conference with the likes of tea party darlings and U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Kentucky’s Rand Paul and fellow Texan Ted Cruz.
Dubbed the “Merry Christmas” bill, the bipartisan measure sailed through the state House and Senate to reach Perry’s desk.
It removes legal risks of saying “Merry Christmas” in schools while also protecting traditional holiday symbols, such as a menorah or nativity scene, so long as more than one religion and a secular symbol are also reflected.
“I realize it’s only June. But it’s a good June and the holidays are coming early this year,” Perry said. ” It’s a shame that a bill like this one I’m signing today is even required, but I’m glad that we’re standing up for religious freedom in this state. Religious freedom does not mean freedom from religion.”
During the last Sunday of the legislative session on May 26, Rep. Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat, gave the Texas House’s daily prayer.
“We are fortunate to live in a country where we have the freedom to exercise the religion of our choosing while also being free from having any religion imposed upon us,” said Howard, herself a Unitarian Universalist.
Her words prompted some conservative lawmakers to hold their own, separate prayer session moments later.
Perry did not mention Howard or her prayer, but invited to the signing ceremony cheerleaders from Kountze High School in East Texas. They were briefly barred by their school district from displaying banners with bible verses at football games. Perry decried the ban and a judge eventually ruled it violated students’ free speech rights.
The governor said Thursday that the law was for believers like the Kountze cheerleaders, who wore red “I cheer for Jesus” T-shirts.
The Faith & Freedom Coalition is a conservative, grass-roots advocacy group whose conference runs through the weekend. Perry heads to Washington on Friday.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Dwayne Bohac of Houston, said he drafted it after discovering that his son’s school erected a “holiday tree” in December because any mention of Christmas could spark litigation.
“We hope that this is a fire that will take off and become laws in the other 49 states,” said Bohac, who said his bill has attracted national attention.
He added of Perry: “This is not a governor that shirks away from the tough issues. And this should not be a tough issue, which is what’s even amazing about all this. But this is just political correctness that’s run a-muck and our brains have been completely fallen out as a result.”
As Perry signed the bill, 10 members of a group called the Lone Star Santas – with long white beards but wearing colorful summer garb rather than their traditional red suits – cheered and rang bells. Standing behind Perry’s desk was Glenn Westberry, or “Santa G” from Houston, and Rabbi Zev Johnson of the Rohr Chabad Jewish Center at the University of Texas.
Both cheered the bill, with Westberry saying he has been “persona non grata in Texas schools for too long.” Johnson joked, “I thought this was the ‘Happy Hanukkah’ law.”
Many people do not realize that US Supreme Court rulings of the past actually give a lot more leeway than you might think. For example, the Supreme court ruling in 1963 (Abington School District v. Schempp) said that “the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as a part of a secular (public school) program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment.”
Since even the Bible can be read in public schools, how can simply greeting each other with “Merry Christmas” be a violation of the Constitution? The Rick Perry holiday law was explained by the Texas governor in this manner:
“Freedom of religion doesn’t mean freedom from religion, and people of faith often feel like they can’t express that faith publicly. HB 308 works to address that by ensuring that people of all faiths are free to use traditional holiday greetings, and display religious scenes and symbols, even on school property. It ensures freedom of expression where, for many students, teachers and administrators, it’s most important.”
The Rick Perry holiday law called the Merry Christmas bill specifically says that a “school district may educate students about the history of traditional winter celebrations, and allow students and district staff to offer traditional greetings regarding the celebrations, including: (1) “Merry Christmas”; (2) “Happy Hanukkah”; and (3) “happy holidays.”
The major point is that HB 308 allow religious freedom in schools but also says teachers, or any government workers, ”may not include a message that encourages adherence to a particular religious belief.” Essentially, Texas is not allowed to take sides in how people express their religious freedom, or make an establishment of religion in the minds of school children. So if someone wants to celebrate the winter with pagan symbols alongside a Christmas tree I’m assuming that’s alright by Texas. But, at the same time, I’m assuming there will be some reasonable limitations. For example, what if someone were to erect a Christmas display that purposefully insulted other religions for that sake alone?
Do you think the Rick Perry holiday law is bringing common sense back to schools?
You be the judge…