The Texas House and Senate have both passed the "Merry Christmas Bill," which allows public schools to openly celebrate Christmas without fear of legal action. The bill specifically allows teachers to say "traditional greetings" for "traditional winter celebrations," such as Christmas and Hanukkah and, theoretically, others that aren't specifically mentioned in the measure.
The bill, introduced by Representative Dwayne Bohac, a Houstong Republican, also allows schools to teach the history of traditional winter holidays and set up displays as long as they include more than one religion or a religion and some sort of "secular scene or symbol." Schools however cannot include any messages that support adherence to any given religious belief.
"Our school officials and teachers have enough on their plate without having to worry about frivolous lawsuits for celebrating Christmas and Hanukkah," Bohac said in a press release introducing the bill. Reaction to the bill has been mixed, and nearly every news source reporting on it frames it as a counterattack in the perpetual War on Christmas.
The president of the American Federation of Teachers' Texas branch, Linda Bridges, told Austin-based KTBC that she doesn't see the need for such legislation.
"I think I can honestly say I've never had a question from a teacher about what they can and can't do around holidays," said Bridges. "I think we really have to say does this help education when we are caught up in discussions that have become pure partisan discussions that is not the way we should be looking at education."
A spokesperson for the ACLU of Texas gave KTBC the following statement: "We hope administrators and teachers remain mindful that it is of utmost importance that it's parents who teach their children about matters of faith, not public schools."
Russell Glasser, co-host of the Austin public-access TV show "The Atheist Experience," told Raw Story today that he believes this bill is the latest way Christians try to maintain an illusion of persecution. "They're claiming that they're under oppression," he said, "and they use this as an excuse all the time to pass laws that basically codify Christianity and make sure that everybody hears about it as often as possible."
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Some superintendents are in support of the bill, which is understandable since it blocks a source of possible legal action against schools. Apparently even Santa Claus impersonators are weighing in -- a cadre of them were in the House gallery when the bill came up and rang sleigh bells in celebration when it passed.
Bohac announced its passage on his Facebook page:
I'm glad. It is Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanza whether you celebrate or not so why be offended if someone wishes you a happy one. What is silly is that there are people who actually sue because they are wished well. I'm sorry time had to be taken to deal with this but I'm pleased the issue has been addressed.
The bill is now headed to the governor, where it's expected to be signed. A spokesman for Governor Rick Perry told the Huffington Post that "This bill is about the freedom of religion, not freedom from religion, and Gov. Perry supports it."