Texas students would have greater freedom to express their religious views on school campuses under a bill passed Saturday by the House and sent to Gov. Rick Perry, who has publicly supported the measure.Under the legislation, religious beliefs expressed in homework, artwork and other assignments would be judged by traditional academic standards. Students couldn’t be penalized or rewarded because of the religious content of their work.
Supporters say the bill is needed to protect students from censorship and school districts from lawsuits. But opponents argue it will lead to religious discrimination among students.
“We are allowing our young people to express their faith, whatever that faith is,” said state Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman.
At an April news conference, Perry was surrounded by children and parents who said their religious speech was quashed at public school. Supporters of the bill have cited examples of students being prohibited from wishing troops overseas a “Merry Christmas” or told they couldn’t distribute religious bracelets at recess.
The House had amended the bill to say the religious expression or speech could not discriminate against someone else’s race, age, sexual preference or religious beliefs.
The Senate took that amendment out, and the House voted to approve the Senate version of the bill.
Critics say it is an unconstitutional effort to encourage religion over nonreligion in the state’s public schools.
Claremont, CaliforniaÂ – Every night in December, Richard Viselli’s Christmas-light display transformed his normally quiet, north Claremont neighborhood into a light-show spectacular.Â Â
The 55-year-old Whittier Avenue resident put up more than 58,000 multicolored lights and synchronized the blinking light display to a musical score that he broadcast from a low-watt radio transmitter.
At its peak, in the week before Christmas, the show attracted thousands of nightly visitors who would park in front of the home, turn up their radios and marvel at the 15-minute light show.
But for many of Viselli’s neighbors, the spectacle surrounding the “Christmas House,” as it came to be known, was a nightmare.Â Â
The blinking lights, loud music and nightly traffic drove one of Viselli’s neighbors to near-madness, leading to a violent Christmas Eve confrontation and a subsequent lawsuit.
A group of 11 neighborhood families have petitioned the city to enact Christmas-light regulations to prevent a repeat performance by Viselli. The City Council will consider the issue at its meeting tonight.
The neighborhood push to shut down the display is being led by the Swartz family, whose corner-lot home on Syracuse Drive is right across the street from Viselli’s home.
In early December, the light show – which ran four hours a night from 6 to 10 – was bearable because the crowds it attracted were at first small, said Barbara Swartz, 44.
But after local newspapers and TV news programs began covering the impressive light display, the crowds grew. Soon there was nightly gridlock traffic, parked cars that blocked residents’ driveways, and littering and public urination, Swartz said.
“It was just insanity,” she said. “They were standing in the front yard clapping and cheering. It was like a carnival.”
Viselli refused to tone down the display. Calls to police and city code enforcement went nowhere, as Viselli wasn’t breaking any laws. The Swartz family was resigned to living with the nightly spectacle.
“Most people, you try to work with your neighbors,” Swartz said. “And if you know you’re doing something to upset them, you stop it. But not this guy.”
Viselli, a Christmas nut who says he wishes the season lasted 365 days a year, has been putting up Christmas lights since he was 12 years old.
In December, the display he set up was the most ambitious of his life.
He spent all year putting up lights and programming the synchronized light and music show. For less than $500, the salesman for a wholesale electrical company purchased a low-watt FM transmitter and a license that allowed him to broadcast copyrighted music.
“I do this for the people … I love to see people smile and laugh and feel good,” he said.
On Christmas Eve, the neighborhood dispute between the Swartzes and Viselli reached its climax.
The number of visitors to the neighborhood was the highest of the season. The music blasting from cars was louder than it had ever been.
Inside the Swartz family dining room, Christmas Eve dinner was disrupted by noise, by light and by hundreds of visiting strangers they say were peering through their dining room window.
Barbara Swartz’s patience ran out. With her husband at her back, she walked across the street to Viselli’s home, and with an audience of hundreds of light-show watchers, knocked on his door.
When Viselli opened the door, Barbara Swartz ran into the home, screamed at Viselli to turn down his music, and told him he “completely ruined Christmas.”
Viselli says he then tried to push her out of the house – Swartz says he slammed the door on her – and at the point of contact Swartz lunged at Viselli and attempted to strangle him.
Robert Swartz pulled his wife off Viselli, and as she stormed away from the home, Barbara Swartz grabbed a string of Christmas lights and yanked them off the house. The vandalism caused expensive damage to Viselli’s complex electrical system, he claims.
Police arrived to the scene, but did not arrest Swartz because Viselli declined to press charges. Viselli said that despite Swartz’s misdeed, she shouldn’t have to spend Christmas Eve in jail.
In February, Viselli won a $423 small-claims court decision against Barbara Swartz for the damage to his light display.
Tension in the neighborhood remains high. The Visellis and Swartzes do not communicate, and most neighbors have taken sides in the dispute.
Neil Goodwin, who has lived in the house next door to the Swartzes for 22 years, says that in his time, no other episode has similarly divided the neighborhood.
“We’ve never had anything like this before,” he said.
Viselli said Monday he is willing to work with his neighbors to resolve some of the issues with this year’s light show, which he has already begun planning.
“The show’s not gonna stop,” he said. “Unless the city shuts me down, the show will go on.”
Barbara Swartz says her husband and several other neighbors plan to attend tonight’s City Council meeting. But for her, the topic is so emotional she’s not sure she can attend.
“I’ll probably be reduced to tears,” she said. “I feel like I have no recourse. This guy is allowed to do this with impunity, and this is our house. We live here; we have no place to go.”
Though Christmas is months away, the traditional celebration of the birth of Christ in Italian school districts has become a raging controversy. Parents of pupils at the Casa del Bosco nursery school in the multi-ethnic Oltrisarco district of Bolzano have been informed that at the schoolâ€™s Christmas concert, the students will not be permitted to sing â€œTu scendi dalle stelleâ€ [From Starry Skies Thou Comest].
The schoolâ€™s teachers single-handedly made the decision to eliminate the carol to placate Muslim and other foreign born children, though they celebrate Chinese New Years and â€œlearn about the significance of Ramadan.â€
The Italian newspaper Corriere Della Serra got it right, calling the move sublimating Christianity a â€œsacrificeâ€ of the â€œbaby Jesus on the altar of multiculturalism.â€
The townâ€™s Mayor Luigi Spagnolli called the matter â€œcomplete nonsenseâ€ and even the local Imam Breigeche Abulkeheir, said in an interview with Corriere Della Serra that â€œthe figure of Jesus is holy for those who believe in the Koran, too.â€
A COUNCILLOR in Oldham wants to know why town hall bureaucrats have cancelled Christmas.
Councillor John Anchor is concerned that the council’s draft diary of meetings for 2007/2008 identifies the Muslim festival of Ramadan beginning on 13 September; it finishing on 13 October with the festival of Eid and also names Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Light on 9 November; as well as the second Eid on 20 December but makes no mention of Christmas or Easter.
These important Christian festivals are merely referred to a “ban holidays” in the draft diary.
Given that Christianity is the majority religion of this UK district it is doubtful that this will go by unnoticed or unprotested. But it looks like the War on Christmas 2007 is already underway.