Missouri Overrides Veto of Christmas Bill

Missouri Overrides Veto of Christmas Bill

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 it’s an “extremely dangerous law” that would open the door to constitutional violations.

“It 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 — all under the guise of celebrating Christmas,” 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.

“I’m sorry, it’s a federal holiday,” 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 bill’s passage, contends the new Missouri law is “unconstitutional 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 “because they have to follow the Constitution as well as the Missouri statute.”

“If a public school teacher was proselytizing in class, that violates the establishment clause,” says Rothert. “But if that teacher now says this is part of my celebration of Christmas, I have to tell people about Jesus, that’s going to put the Missouri statute and the establishment clause in conflict and present a problem, especially in the schools.”

Rothert says he wouldn’t be surprised if the law winds up being challenged in court. “This is something the ACLU would take on,” he says. “I would say in the Missouri legislature dozens of bills are introduced that would be unconstitutional. Most don’t become law. We are very disappointed this bill became law.”

New Jersey Light Fight to Involve Liberty Counsel

New Jersey Light Fight to Involve Liberty Counsel

Mark this one as another to watch for the 2013 season of the War on Christmas: According to The Cranbury Press of New Jersey resident Keith Shaw was cited for four violations of local ordinances given for what has become known as The Christmas Spectacular in Cranbury, New Jersey.

The Christmas Spectacular is an annual lighting event in which Mr. Shaw conducts nightly light shows throughout the month of December on his front lawn at 128 N. Main Street. The shows are held at 6, 7 and 8 p.m. and are choreographed to music broadcast from a sound system located on Mr. Shaw’s property, according to his website, cranburychristmaslights.com. The display can also be viewed from the car, with the radio tuned to frequency 89.9 to hear the music.

The month-long display is put on as a fundraiser for local charitable causes, according to the website, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to causes such as the He Cares, We Care food bank at Princeton Alliance Church in Plainsboro. In 2012, the light shows raised $6,870.56 for the food bank, according to the website.

Of course, neighbors have complained about the show, which has a history dating back six years. They don’t like the traffic, the potential crime and vandalism plus the disruption to their neighboring properties.

Shaw’s potential violations include the violation of the use restriction of a residential zone, and three sign ordinance violations that had to do with size, number of signs, and advertising a permitted use. Shaw’s home is located within the Village Hamlet Residential Zone in Cranbury Township and commercial activities are not permitted in residential zones. The Christmas light display solicits donations for charities, which is a commercial activity, according to the officer who issued the citations.

When asked what his next step will be, Mr. Shaw said that he is unsure. He will be consulting with his attorneys at Liberty Counsel to decide where to go from here.

With the board’s interpretation in hand, Mr. Shaw said that regardless of any changes he might have to make, the show will go on as scheduled. ”We’re definitely going to be doing a Christmas display this year,” he said.

The announced inclusion of attorneys from Liberty Counsel is sure to elevate this fight in the media.

Texas Town Grapples with Christmas for Non-Profits

Texas Town Grapples with Christmas for Non-Profits

The Texas city of New Braunfels (near San Antonio) came under fire last year for posting banners that reminded drivers to “Keep Christ in Christmas”. For some that ignited controversy because it appears to violate the (non-existent) establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution. Folks on the city council there want to avoid such trouble this year.

For $60, the city hangs banners for local non-profit organizations, giving them a way to announce upcoming events. The local chapter of the Knights of Columbus, a non-profit, wants to promote a musical titled “Keep Christ in Christmas”. See the trouble?

At the center of the argument is the separation of church and state and whether the city should allow messages like “Keep Christ in Christmas,” even if it opens up the possibility for messages from other religions or organizations that may not be as widely accepted (the Ku Klux Klan was an example used at last night’s meeting).

Mayor Gale Pospisil says the banners are not designed to advocate religious or political beliefs but are a service that NBU generously provides, and something that could just as easily be taken away.

Paula Difonzo told City Council that last year they put up 75 banners for non-profit organizations as a community service.

Difonzo told Council, quote, “As we all evaluate the purpose of the program, I hope we can understand that it’s not about whether we agree or disagree with the message, what we must think about and what we should try to understand is that we cannot discriminate between messages. So that when we allow one message that advocates a religious or political position, we must allow all such messages.”

Now that the issue has been brought up in the media you can bet targets have been drawn on the Texas town (three towns in Texas were targets last year) and that someone there will soon be receiving letters from the FFRF or the ACLU.

School District Superintendent Under Fire for Anti-Christmas Crusade

School District Superintendent Under Fire for Anti-Christmas Crusade

Kathleen Williams, superintendent of schools for the Wausau, Wisconsin School District is under fire by angry parents and students for her crusade against Christmas music. The rift started when Williams called in a local high school music teacher to meet with a school district attorney in discussing how religious Christmas music violated the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Even though the school district has for decades sent music groups out into the community to perform both sacred and secular Christmas music Williams expressed concerns that continuing to do so would expose the school district to lawsuits and complaints from the community. In a meeting held late last week Williams explained her belief that a group of high school kids singing some Christmas carols is prohibited under the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

Caroling “is endorsing Christmas, which is a very religious holiday,” Williams declared, according to the Wausau Daily Herald. Her concern is that singing a Christmas song to old people at a nursing home violates the doctrine of separation of church and state.

In her meeting with music educators Williams instructed that no sacred works be performed for Christmas 2013.

Music teacher Phil Buch responded to the ultimatum by disbanding the elite choir group, called the Master Singers—an extracurricular group that meets before school. The choir — which turned away 60 percent of students who wanted to join this year — sings at the school’s winter concert and in venues such as nursing homes and service club meetings.

“I know, after teaching this group for 31 years, that I need 10 weeks to get these kids ready, and right now, we don’t know what we’re approved to perform,” the choir director told the Daily Herald. “There is no point in rehearsing if we don’t know what we’ll be able to sing.”

“Excluding sacred music would mean that students would get an incomplete education,” warned Julie Burgess, a music teacher in a nearby school district.

“The group is not a religious group,” said Adam Yarish, a college student who sang with the Master Singers in high school. “The singers were for hire. We caroled around the city. We’ve been around and been in demand for 30 years. People love the Master Singers.”

Williams and the school board quickly backed away from their demands against sacred Christmas music for this year and has elected instead to allow local school principals to determine the appropriate content of school music programs for this Christmas.

But for Williams the damage is done. She faces a recall petition as the community is still stewing over the attempted abrupt action of the Superintendent.

Wisconsin Christmas Music Battle Goes Viral; Students Claim Victory

Wisconsin Christmas Music Battle Goes Viral; Students Claim Victory

We reported the story last Sunday — the media ran with it Tuesday. By Wednesday Freedom From Religion Foundation got in on the act. It appears to be the first big national story in the War on Christmas 2013.

In an update after a late Thursday meeting with the school district students and parents are claiming victory and that the Christmas concerts are now back on — with traditional Christmas music put back in place.

Here’s the issue: without warning the choir director at West High School in Wausau, Wisconsin was called to discuss plans for the upcoming music events to be held in December. It was reported early on that Wausau schools three options for December concerts, which typically contain a significant amount of religious music: choose five secular, or non-religious, songs for each religious song performed; hold a concert and have no holiday music whatsoever; or postpone any concerts in December. The choir director was outraged and in response he opted not only to cancel concerts — he disbanded the music groups who would traditionally perform.

The school district claims it is merely making sure they don’t violate the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution (because educators in Wisconsin have SUCH a great track record with constitutional issues). They also say now they never came up with the plan to perform a certain amount of secular songs for every religious song performed. They claim that was a “misunderstanding”.

Needless to say, as with many battles we’ve seen before about Christmas in public schools, this one too will end with someone being very unhappy.

Freedom from Religion Foundation president Annie Laurie Gaylor claims no responsibility in this latest fight but was quick to pitch in with FFRF’s support of the school district:

“There can be a fine line, and we understand in some instances there can be sacred classical music in the schools, but it’s so easy for something like this to turn into a message of indoctrination. When you have a chorus going out to 15 places to sing religious music, it really does give the appearance that the school is celebrating Christianity.”

Yes, Christianity as gained so many converts over the decades by going to nursing homes to sing “Silent Night”.

The tip off of a problem was that the school choir director met with school district officials with an attorney present. In other words, they were ready for a fight.

According to a story on The Blaze tonight, the choir director at West High is known for his religious nature.

All this intense attention to the issue appears to have been resolved as of late Thursday. The Wausau School District has backed off on the requirements and have left the decision of local program content to school principals.

The crux of the issue comes down to this: when a school group performs Christmas music with religious themes does it in fact constitute promotion of that religion? The “establishment clause” prohibits the “establishment”…does a school group singing actually do that?

Oh, and by the way, where exactly in the Constitution is the establishment clause?

Another silly chapter in the War on Christmas.