Dark Clouds Gathering Over Texas Merry Christmas Bill

The so-called Merry Christmas Bill in Texas awaiting Governor Rick Perry’s signature has riled atheist and progressive activists across the country. Defend Christmas.com has received notice that Texas will be the scene of challenges to the new law and possible protests are planned in front of public schools over the new law during the Christmas season.

The prevailing criticism of the new new law is that “the law is likely going to become much more permissive of lawmakers who wish the government to broadcast their religious beliefs to others” — as stated by ThinkProgress.org.

Aron Ra, Texas director of American Atheists, said of State Representative Dwayne Bohac, who authored the bill:

“He wants teachers to randomly be able to proselytize their religious beliefs by being able to put up religious displays in their classrooms, unrestricted, without any fear of litigation. But what happens when it’s not a Christian that’s doing it? What happens when it’s a pagan trying to do solstice or Saturnalia? They’re using the same damn tree and they can cite where it came from.”

This is an interesting perspective because in the history of the War on Christmas in public schools rarely is a teacher’s name invoked as a participant in controversy. It usually comes from a parent or a student claiming an exception or some degree of discrimination one way or the other.

In a blog post recently Ra argued: “It has no secular legislative purpose. It will not only advance the already dominant religion in this country, but will also invariably inhibit less-popular faiths, and it will certainly result in “excessive government entanglement” with religion. It’s not like Muslim teachers will be welcome promoting Ramadan in the classroom. Wiccan teachers will only attract criticism by celebrating Yule or Saturnalia with all the traditional symbols which were originally pagan — including the manger scene (thank you, Horus), and which were later appropriated by Christianity. In other words, it was never a Christmas tree to begin with, and there is no defensible reason to back this bill.”

According to Raw Story.com, Russell Glasser, television host of an Austin, Texas based public access channel agrees with Ra:

The “Merry Christmas Bill,” he said, “sounds like the usual ‘War on Christmas’ nonsense. As far as I can tell, nobody has ever actually stopped saying ‘Merry Christmas’ because they’re afraid to get sued,” he continued. “Does anybody sue anyone for saying ‘Merry Christmas?’ Because I think that’s a bunch of bullshit.”

Here at DefendChristmas.com the emails we have received indicate a broad awareness of the Merry Christmas Bill by the atheist community and agreement on their part that most atheists view the bill as an advancement of Christianity in public schools, a direct violation of the Constitution.

In our view it is likely that court challenges to this new law could surface and delay its implementation. Those in favor of the bill claim it is an attempt to solidify protection against frivolous lawsuits while those opposed to the bill say it opens the door to advancing Christianity in public schools.

School districts not only in Texas but across the country have been modifying their holiday policies specifically to reduce the threatened lawsuits they receive.

Most are under such budgetary constraints any way that they just don’t want to “go there” and they cave on the issue, effectively allowing organizations such as the Freedom from Religion Foundation to “win” by default. The common result in the schools is an environment where Christmas trees are called “holiday” trees and the word “Christmas” is removed from any celebrations around the traditional holiday season in December. Everything from school plays, to music performed, to art work displayed all is carefully regulated to avoid the appearance of acknowledging Christmas in any way.

In most arguments we are seeing from atheists especially on this bill we note their frequent reference to Christmas history. While we generally advocate minimal representation of Christmas in public schools it isn’t because the secular Christmas should not be observed there or that the history of Christmas should be avoided — it is because, like most atheists we talk to, the schools get the history of Christmas wrong.

Likewise it is a matter of course that religions of all stripes are touched upon by school curriculum in the study of history, society and cultures. This cannot and should not be avoided entirely.

We predict that while the authors of the Texas legislation may have intended to reduce the number of lawsuits brought upon school districts and public institutions by the observance of Christmas they may have instead achieved just the opposite. Only time will tell if Texas will become the center stage in the next battles of the War on Christmas.

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