There is a battle over Christmas in Missouri — kinda, sorta, well — not really. The Missouri Merry Christmas Bill — thought to be dead in July — does not even mention Christmas. It is a simple law that says:
Prohibits any state or local governmental entity; public building, park, or school; or public setting or place from banning or restricting the practice, mention, celebration, or discussion of any federal holiday.
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon vetoed the bill in July, declaring it too broad.
But now that the veto has been overridden by the Missouri state legislators the real fight over the issue is about to begin.
Gregory Lipper, a senior litigation counsel for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told the Wall Street Journal that itâ€™s an â€œextremely dangerous lawâ€ that would open the door to constitutional violations.
â€œIt could be read to allow public school teachers, while in the classroom, to reenact the virgin birth, preach the salvation of Christ, or press their students to convert to Christianity â€” all under the guise of celebrating Christmas,â€ said Mr. Lipper, whose group generally opposes the government promotion of religion.
Republican state representative Rick Brattin, who wrote the bill, was plain spoken in defense of the veto and said schools are overreacting to threats of First Amendment lawsuits by banning Christmas altogether. He said three of his kids attend an elementary school that prohibited students from throwing a Christmas Party and banned Christmas decoration.
â€œIâ€™m sorry, itâ€™s a federal holiday,â€ Brattin said.
Other lawmakers are lining up now against the bill and a fight is rumored to be brewing out of state to take on the law.
Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, who argued against the billâ€™s passage, contends the new Missouri law is â€œunconstitutional because it violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment”.
Tony Rothert, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, says the new state law will put schools in a tough position â€œbecause they have to follow the Constitution as well as the Missouri statute.â€
â€œIf a public school teacher was proselytizing in class, that violates the establishment clause,â€ says Rothert. â€œBut if that teacher now says this is part of my celebration of Christmas, I have to tell people about Jesus, thatâ€™s going to put the Missouri statute and the establishment clause in conflict and present a problem, especially in the schools.â€
Rothert says he wouldnâ€™t be surprised if the law winds up being challenged in court. â€œThis is something the ACLU would take on,â€ he says. â€œI would say in the Missouri legislature dozens of bills are introduced that would be unconstitutional. Most donâ€™t become law. We are very disappointed this bill became law.â€