Israeli University Recognizes Christmas

Israeli University Recognizes Christmas

Haifa University will become the first Israeli university to give days off to the student body for Christian and Arab holidays. The University of Haifa has become the first Israeli university to declare Christmas Day a holiday for students.

The university senate voted Sunday to give off for Christmas; Eid al Fitr, the end of Ramadan; and Eid al Adha, the Druze Feast of the Sacrifice, Haaretz reported. A special committee with student representation had recommended the action.

Arab-Israelis make up about 20 percent of the student body at Haifa University, according to its Jewish-Arab Center.

The new vacation days, which will not come at the expense of any Jewish holidays, will go into effect in the coming school year.

Ross Township Display to Re-Light in Fight for Rights

Ross Township Display to Re-Light in Fight for Rights

The Ansell brothers are fighting back. Last month the Ross Township, Pennsylvania brothers who occupy a home and have let their Christmas display go to seed made news by being hauled before a local magistrate for the mess that is their home after several complaints from neighbors. After seeing their fine reduced from $3000 to $1250 by the local judge who indicated “that while there had been some compliance with his original order, there had not been enough” the brothers have vowed to turn back on the lights and bring back the crowds that once flocked to see the display.

Claiming that his neighbors and local officials objected to his lights and the traffic, Bill Ansell long ago ceased the displays, leaving the property strewn with decapitated choir boys, a urinating Santa, and plenty of what the neighbors call junk.

“You have rusty lawn chairs on your property, a urinating Santa, a Virgin Mary with a knife through its head, those are the types of things we’re talking about — and slanderous remarks about the ladies who live across the street,” noted Kenneth Fryncko, an attorney for some of the neighbors.

In early May, a district magistrate ordered that the offensive signs be removed, along with the now unused out-of-season display that violated Ross Township ordinances. The Ansells took down the signs but not the display.

When asked again if he would take down the display Ansell doubled down:

“No, I’m going to continue putting it up. Get ready for light up night.”

The Ansell brothers will appeal this fine, saying they have a First Amendment constitutional right.

“Freedom of expression. You can put whatever kind of display up, right?” noted Bill Ansell.

Between this light fight and the very public debate over the Hyatt Extreme Christmas display in Florida the season is getting an early start in 2013.

O’Reilly and Fox News Claim Victory with Merry Christmas Bill

O’Reilly and Fox News Claim Victory with Merry Christmas Bill

Bill O’Reilly and Fox News claims they “fought a righteous battle to make sure that the term “Merry Christmas” in America was respected, we won that, even though the left denied there was any problem at all” and hold up at their proof the passage of the Merry Christmas Bill by the Texas State Legislature. View the video here.

O’Reilly needs to temper his coverage of the War on Christmas.

In fact, if O’Reilly and Fox News in particular were to change their approach to these controversies we might find ourselves more on their side. But harping in this fashion or declaring victory in this way does nothing to give credibility to themselves or to the greater battle really going on here.

Does O’Reilly really expect us to believe that the term “Merry Christmas” was ever in any danger in America? Or that it needed saving?

The arguments here are serious. Atheists and others who view Christmas as a religious promotion in schools have legitimate concerns in some cases. While there are countless exaggerated examples we have covered over the years of frivolous lawsuits and complaints lodged against schools there are countless undocumented examples of schools and atheists working together as well. Never has the term “Merry Christmas” been in danger of extinction.

Once again we call on Bill O’Reilly and Fox News to just report the facts in these cases and stop the whole business of the “War on Christmas”. It isn’t a war on Christmas. It is a war on Religion.

Dark Clouds Gathering Over Texas Merry Christmas Bill

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 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

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, 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 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.

ACLU Puts Texas on Notice

ACLU Puts Texas on Notice

Texas’ Merry Christmas Bill now sits on Governor Perry’s desk but the ink won’t get dry on his signature before the ACLU is heard on the issue of Christmas in Texas public schools. Celebrating the dual legislative win the bill’s sponsor, State Representative Dwayne Bohac of Houston, declared Texas schools safe for saying “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hannukah”.

He got the idea for the bill last December when he picked his 6-year-old up from school.

“I asked him how his day was. He told me excitedly that they had decorated the holiday tree with holiday ornaments,” Bohac said. “I was a little bit flabbergasted and a little bit upset that we’ve become so politically correct that we can’t call a federal holiday by its name.”

The bill is designed to discourage out-of-state organizations from engaging school districts in frivolous lawsuits.

The ACLU of Texas opposed the bill. ACLU Spokesperson Tom Hargis, gave local media 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.” He says the ACLU will be monitoring how this plays out during the upcoming school year.

Bohac will too.

“I think there are too many scrooges. Hopefully House Bill 308 will add more magic to the season,” Bohac said.

Will Texas end up being a battle ground for the War on Christmas in 2013? It has been a hot bed of activity for the past two seasons. Despite the new law — or perhaps now because of it — there is no reason to believe it will not continue.