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.

Town Threatens $3000 Fine for Christmas Decorations Left Up

Town Threatens $3000 Fine for Christmas Decorations Left Up

A man’s yard filled with toys and Christmas decorations in Ross Township, Pennsylvania has drawn the ire of neighbors and threats from a town council. Robert Ansell has until May 29th to clean up the yard or face a $3000 fine. Ansell owns the home, which is lived in by his brother William.

This particular property has been in the news for years as the Christmas display was once very popular and drew thousands of people each Christmas, much to the consternation of neighbors who had to put up with traffic, trash and parking woes each December.

But conditions have taken a dark turn over the years. Ansell’s Christmas display is nowhere near as jolly as it used to be. Local media reports that there is a Santa Claus urinating the driveway, some blow mold Christmas characters are old and faded, a snowman has been repeatedly run over and there is another Santa with a cone on his head.

Bitterness between neighbors has been frequently bitter. When a neighbor died Ansell hung a sign calling his neighbors thieves and liars.

“They all speak truth in that when you steal somebody’s mailbox, I mean, you know, put a sign up calling them a thief,” said Robert Ansell. “I’m just exercising my First Amendment right.”

Neighbors took a photo of it, though Ansell denies putting an angel in his yard with a knife in her head after he was found guilty of harassment.

“Keeping poking the bear and the bear’s going to come back and he’s gonna bite you,” William Ansell said.

Christmas Stricken for Kids in Northern Spain

Christmas Stricken for Kids in Northern Spain

The northern province of Spain is serious about use of religious terms in its schools: a new law in the socialist-run province of Asturias now forbids using the word Christmas.

Teachers and pupils in Asturias classrooms will now have to refer to Christmas as “winter holidays” and Easter as “second term holidays”.

The region’s socialist-led government has decided to introduce the new terminology in a bid to restrict religious references in the next school year.

Asturias’s education ministry has offered little explanation for the secular legislation, Spanish daily El Mundo reported on Saturday.

Local religious teachers and institutions have shrugged off the new law, branding it as a “stupidity” but also an “attack”.

“This could be a huge reason for ridicule for Asturian society,” conservative association Hazte Oír (Make Yourself Heard) told the national newspaper.

But Spain’s Workers’ Commissions CC00 and Asturias Teachers’ Association SUATEA have backed the move, suggesting that the school calendar should take every student’s religious beliefs, whatever they might be, into account.

Merry Christmas Bill Goes to Texas Governor

Merry Christmas Bill Goes to Texas Governor

The Texas state senate passed the Merry Christmas Bill and it has now been sent to Governor Rick Perry for his signature.

The bill would clarify that schools may have Christmas trees, nativity scenes and other displays as long as any display includes a scene or symbol of more than one religion.

“This will provide students, parents, teachers and administrators a safe harbor for openly celebrating a federal holiday without fear of litigation or retribution,” said Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville. “Our school officials and teachers have enough on their plates without having to worry about frivolous lawsuits and retribution for recognizing Christmas or Hanukkah.” Nichols said the guidelines for exchange of greetings such as “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah,” as well as the display of symbols marking those holidays, are consistent with rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The legislation does prohibit a display relating to a traditional winter celebration from including a message that encourages adherence to a particular religious belief. After approval of the legislation, Nichols told other senators, “Thank you members and Merry Christmas to you all.”

Santa Saved for Flint City Hall

Santa Saved for Flint City Hall

Times are tough in Michigan — real tough. The emergency manager sent to save Flint, Michigan from bankruptcy is going to great lengths to slash budgets and increase revenue. His efforts included a plan to sell the antique Santa and reindeer Christmas display that has adorned city hall for decades. They went up for auction at the starting price of $5.

In other words, there was no longer a job for Santa in Flint, Michigan.

But a local resident, Melodee Mabbitt, says her hometown doesn’t need more bad news, so she and her husband bid $150 for the jolly old elf, his sleigh and four reindeer that sit atop Flint’s city hall during the holidays.

But they were quickly outbid. Then Mabbitt’s mother said she’d match their bid. Mabbitt also posted what was happening on Facebook. And a short time later …

“I was getting phone calls from people saying, ‘Here’s 200 bucks. Go save that Santa!'”

And Mabbitt did, for $1,330.

“We thought that was too sad a story for Flint to have to live with,” Mabbitt says. “We have enough going on in this town without taking our Santa and auctioning him on the Internet.”

She says the group wants to put Santa back to work at city hall.

“He’s lovely. He’s one of these antique Santas you really can’t find anywhere anymore. Replacing him would have been really hard for the city to do, especially given the situation we’re in.

“He’s a symbol of hope for everybody in the community and for children,” Mabbitt says.

Florida Light Fight Dubbed Hatfield and McCoys By City Mayor

Florida Light Fight Dubbed Hatfield and McCoys By City Mayor

A Christmas light fight is gaining momentum months ahead of the holiday season in Plantation, Florida where a home with more than 200,000 lights has neighbors there fed up. Hyatt Extreme Christmas, a nationally known home famous for lights, decorations and plenty of traffic, is coming under fire from neighbors who declare they just can’t take it anymore.

According to The Sun Sentinel neighbors are headed to court after the city said it has legally done all it can to scale back the display that includes almost 200,000 lights, a 20-foot Ferris wheel that gives stuffed animals a ride, a 30-foot Christmas tree, life-size gingerbread men, a snow-blowing machine, moving elves and a 20-foot inflatable movie screen that loops Disney movies.

“I’ve tried to be the peacemaker,” lamented Mayor Diane Veltri Bendekovic on Friday. “It’s just not happening. It’s like the Hatfields and the McCoys out there.”

The issue might wind up in the court system. Bendekovic said residents have the option of asking a civil judge to declare the property a nuisance, citing a quality-of-life issue. “It’s a civil matter — neighbor to neighbor,” she said.

In the meantime, she said the city has applied to the state for “no parking” signs along Old Hiatus Road. While the mayor said the intention was for consistency along the road, it would limit the number of people who could attend the display, because throngs of cars park on the street around the corner from the Hyatt house.

“The city has done legally [everything] it can,” she said.

The fireworks are just beginning on this controversy and given the off-season attention it is getting we think it may lead the way this upcoming season as light fights seem to be one of the hottest issues in the so-called War on Christmas for 2013.

Texas Approves Merry Christmas Bill

Texas Approves Merry Christmas Bill

A bipartisan bill passed the Texas state legislature that removes the legal risks of saying or using the words “Merry Christmas” in Texas public schools. Designed to fend off what the bill’s sponsors call “ridiculous lawsuits” the bill not only allows the words “Merry Christmas” to be used but also green lights the use of Christmas trees (which teachers can now legally call Christmas trees), menorahs, and nativity scenes so long as more than one religious or secular symbol is reflected.

Texas has seen its share of lawsuits in the ongoing war on Christmas. In 2012 the city of Crockett, Texas was sued by the out-of-state Freedom from Religion foundation for a nativity scene on public property. In 2011 Henderson County Texas made national headlines for a similar ruckus raised over a Christmas display in Athens, Texas.

As reported when the Merry Christmas bill was introduced the legislation is designed to protect school districts and other budget-strapped government operations to give up on defending Christmas lights, displays, events and decorations simply because they lack the resources to fight lawsuits that come from heavily financed organizations from out of state.

Texas Atheists are upset over the bill, saying that the bill is merely intended to promote prominent religions in the region.