Massachusetts Town Fights Over Christmas on School Calendar

Massachusetts Town Fights Over Christmas on School Calendar

Both the Washington Times and The Blaze tell the story today of Norwood, Massachusetts and the fight against a school district changing school calendars from showing “Christmas break” to “Winter break”.

It is one of the oldest skirmishes in the war on Christmas: The school board says the new title is more inclusive, which local parents interpret as an attack on Christmas and Christian faith.

Local activist Theresa McNulty thinks the School Committee’s decision to rename Christmas recess to winter recess is indicative of a larger problem in the United States.

“We think there is a movement in our country to demote Christianity and Christmas is the name of a Christian feast day,” McNulty said. “Christmas is the name of a national holiday. They changed the name of a national holiday to winter recess, and that offended us.”

The school district claims it is about much more than Christmas.

“The motivation for the change is if we designate a week and a half vacation for one holiday, we were giving the message that we are holding that holiday as greater than other holidays on the calendar,” said School Committee member John Badger, who originally proposed the change to winter recess.

Superintendent James Hayden noted Christmas is listed on the school calendar, as are a number of other religious holidays from various faiths listed.

“This is not a fight about Christmas. We acknowledge it. It’s about being representative for everyone,” Hayden said. “I hope we can get beyond being hung up on labels.”

Lousiana Newest State to Pursue Christmas Bill

Lousiana Newest State to Pursue Christmas Bill

Christmas and Hanukkah should be celebrated freely at public schools in Louisiana without fear of punishment, according to a state lawmaker from Shreveport, who plans to file legislation to ensure citizens understand their rights during the winter holidays.

State Rep. Alan Seabaugh, a Republican, said Thursday he will file a so-called “Merry Christmas” bill during the 2014 legislative session.

The bill closely mirrors legislation passed into law in Texas this year, which allowed public school staff and students to celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah — by wearing festive garb, verbalizing greetings and holding events — “as long as more than one religion is represented and a secular symbol such as a reindeer or snowman is displayed.”

The Texas law also allows school districts to “educate students about the history of traditional winter.”

“There is a lot of misperception about what the First Amendment actually allows,” said Seabaugh. “Anti-Christian groups, like the (American Civil Liberties Union), want everyone to believe that traditional Christian symbols like nativity scenes and saying ‘Merry Christmas’ are never allowed. That is absolutely not the case.”

He added the legislation would not actually change the law in any real way, since these kinds of celebrations and displays are already allowed, but would instead put the Supreme Court ruling “in state law so there an be a level of comfort within Louisiana public systems” and “to let them know that what they’re trying to do is okay.”

In response, ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie Esman said her group has long been at the forefront of the fight to protect free speech, which includes “protecting Americans from government-imposed religion, because the practice of religion belongs in our houses of worship and our homes.”

The Texas law only applies to “winter holidays” and specifically mentions only Christmas and Hanukkah.

One Man Holding Up Oklahoma Merry Christmas Bill

One Man Holding Up Oklahoma Merry Christmas Bill

After months of consideration it is down to one man in Oklahoma in getting the Merry Christmas Bill there passed.

A grass roots campaign to reach Senator John Ford of Oklahoma is underway as proponents of the Merry Christmas Bill there struggle to bring the legislation before the state Senate for a final vote. Senate Education Committee chairman Ford apparently does not see a need for the bill, frustrating the fellow Republicans who brought the popular legislation forward.

With just a short period of time left in the legislative session to advance the bill this year supporters are asking citizens who approve the legislation to contact Ford. He can be reached at 918-914-9300 or 405-521-5634.

Oklahoma is the 7th state to consider such a measure and it was learned late last week that legislators in Louisiana will be the 8th state to vote on such a bill. The bill has passed in every state so far presented with overwhelming majorities mostly driven by Republicans.

The bill typically is written as a means to protect school districts from lawsuits. In recent years out-of-state organizations such as the Freedom from Religion Foundation have sued on behalf of local residents over the observance of Christmas in public schools. From children singing carols to the use of the phrase “Merry Christmas” secular groups have attacked schools as promoting religion as violation of the establishment clause in the U.S. Constitution.

It is widely viewed as a weak argument but school districts typically don’t have the resources to fight such frivolous law suits in court and end up complying with their demands, thus angering parents and disappointing kids. The simple legislation protects against such lawsuits and sets up basic rules for presenting Christmas in schools fairly.

VA Hospital Negotiating to Censor Christmas Carols

VA Hospital Negotiating to Censor Christmas Carols

The flap over a public school choral group turned away from a Georgia VA Hospital at Christmas has taken a new twist. The Augusta Chronicle is reporting today that the hospital has a “caroling deal” in the works that would limit schools to singing only non-religious Christmas carols at the hospital.

Five days before Christmas 2013 choral students from Alleluia Community School in Augusta were told they had to perform music other than what they prepared due to a five year old policy the hospital was enforcing that banned religious music in public areas. The story went viral as charges of first amendment abuses were levied in the media, resulting in a Congressional review of VA Christmas policies.

Amongst the songs the group tried to perform were Silent Night, Joy to the World and O Come All Ye Faithful.

“Military service veterans, male and female, represent people of all faiths,” hospital spokesman Brian Rothwell said in a statement. “It is out of respect for every faith that The Veterans Administration gives clear guidance on what ‘spiritual care’ is to be given and who is to give it.”

Alleluia Community School Principal Dan Funsch said he was sad to hear that the Veterans Affairs hospital’s “spiritual care” grants holiday exemption only to Frosty, Rudolph and the secular characters that make up the 12 Days of Christmas.

“This is not a religious proselytizing, evangelistic issue,” said Funsch, arguing that Christmas songs are broadcast during the holidays on area radio stations and in local retail outlets. “The song Joy to the World is as much a part of the holiday spirit as the Christmas tree.”

Funsch said the peculiar part of the policy is its recent enforcement.

Rothwell could not provide the date the VA’s ban on religious Christmas songs took effect, but Funsch said that in 2011 and 2012 his students were welcomed without hesitation at the Augusta VA’s Uptown campus as part of a yearly caroling the school does on its last day of classes before the holiday break.

This year, however, when they arranged to sing at the medical center downtown, an official from the hospital’s volunteer services division told a high school senior that he and his classmates could perform only secular songs because of policy.

Funsch said that because of time constraints and unfamiliarity with some of the songs provided by the VA, his high school students decided – on principle – to forgo this year’s caroling in hopes of finding a suitable location to sing their songs next year.

The principal said his students were disappointed with the decision but glad to see their administrators stood up for what they felt was right.

Funsch added that his middle school students were allowed to sing at Georgia Regents Medical Center with no problems.

Other VA hospitals in other parts of the country reported other incidents of Christmas censorship, supposedly because of the policy. A Dallas area VA hospital refused Christmas cards from kids because they used the words “Merry Christmas” and “God Bless You”.

The Congressional VA Committee was besieged with complaints but the apparent “negotiations” limiting public performance of religious-themed Christmas music only points to more of the same in VA hospitals and threatens to broaden the issue and the controversy during the 2014 Christmas season.

It is curious to us that two public institutions oppose each other in this instance — an interesting issue that will likely, someday, end up in front of a judge.

Christmas Carol Condom Ad Ruled Not Offensive

Christmas Carol Condom Ad Ruled Not Offensive

The advertising authority in New Zealand has ruled that a commercial poster featuring the words of the Christmas carol “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” where all the o’s were replaced with condoms was NOT offensive.

C da Silva complained to the authority that an AIDS Foundation “Love your Condom” poster emblazoned with lyrics from the Christian song “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” was offensive.

“I am not opposed to having ads about using condoms and I understand tongue and cheek … but this is a bit much.” the complaint said. “I saw a poster on Ponsonby Rd this morning and I found it highly offensive.”

The authority said the poster was clearly identifiable as an AIDS Foundation “Love your Condom” advertisement, and advocated an important public health message about safe sex and the reduction of HIV infection in New Zealand.

While some might have found the humour in bad taste, the poster did not reach the threshold of causing serious or widespread offence in the community, the authority found.

The advertisement met the required “due sense of social responsibility” and there was no apparent breach of the Advertising Codes.

The authority ruled there were no grounds to proceed.

Georgia Christmas Bill Closer to Passage

Georgia Christmas Bill Closer to Passage

Another step was taken this week in Georgia where house legislators overwhelmingly approved that state’s version of the Merry Christmas Bill, which would allow for the celebration of Christmas in Georgia public schools without fear of frivolous lawsuits. One final vote in the Senate is all that is needed before the bill would go to the governor for signing.

The Georgia House voted 119-52 to approve Senate Bill 283 Tuesday, which would allow educators to use phrases like “Merry Christmas” in schools.

The bill also allows teachers to display traditional religious and nonreligious holiday images and greetings, as long as at least two traditions are included.

Schools may educate students about the history of “traditional winter celebrations” according to the legislation, as well as offer “traditional greetings” regarding those celebrations such as “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah.”

Whether the bill will become a law will depend on at least one more vote, as the House changed some of the language of the bill, and it must go back to the Senate for approval. The Senate’s initial vote on the bill passed 43-8 on February 4th.

Tennessee House Passes Merry Christmas Bill

Tennessee House Passes Merry Christmas Bill

The Tennessee state House of Representatives, by an 84-4 tally, passed a measure allowing “Merry Christmas” in public schools and giving the go ahead to seasonal displays of Christmas celebration without the fear of lawsuits — similar to other bills in other states passed in the last year. The measure will now be taken up by the state senate next week.

“I’m a real proponent of freedom of religion, but not a proponent of freedom from religion,” said the bill’s sponsor state Representative Andy Holt, a Republican from Dresden, who wore a Christmas-themed tie when the bill passed.

The bill would seek to provide a legal basis to protect teachers from lawsuits when they wish students “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah.” Teachers would also be allowed to teach about religious holidays in the classroom under the bill, which supporters say upholds the religious and free speech rights of educators.

The bill also allows schools to display scenes or symbols associated with religious winter holidays, such as a menorah or a Christmas tree, if it is accompanied by a symbol or display of another religion or a secular scene or symbol.

The bill has been dubbed the “Merry Christmas” measure in media reports.

The Senate will consider a slightly amended House version of the bill it passed on February 24, with Holt adding language that said holiday greetings would not be limited to Christmas and Hanukkah but to other types of occasions as well.

“We are just trying to make sure that nobody is to be excluded in this legislation. It doesn’t preclude any other traditional winter celebrations,” Holt said.

If the Senate passes the bill, it goes to the desk of Republican Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.

Alabama Christmas Bill Close to Passage

Alabama Christmas Bill Close to Passage

The Alabama Legislature is getting close to enacting a law to allow public schools to educate students about the history of traditional winter celebrations and allow student and staff to exchange seasonal greetings.

The bill by Republican Sen. Gerald Allen of Tuscaloosa won approval in the Senate last month and cleared the House Education Policy Committee on Wednesday. It now goes to the House for a final vote.

Like other states passing similar bills Alabama is reportedly supporting the idea to protect public schools from frivolous lawsuits filed by out-of-state entities, usually the Freedom from Religion Foundation. In recent years the FFRF has successfully shut down school celebrations of Christmas by sending letters threatening to take districts to court over the mere mention of Christmas.

Also like other states, resistance is found along party lines. Republicans generally favor the legislation while Democrats generally see passage of such bills as unnecessary. This is the case in Alabama as well.

Democratic Rep. Marcel Black of Tuscumbia voted against the bill and said teachers and students can already do what the bill says. Allen says there is confusion among school officials, and he’s trying to clarify what’s permissible.

Oklahoma Christmas Bill Clears Another Hurdle

Oklahoma Christmas Bill Clears Another Hurdle

The state legislature in Oklahoma passed that state’s version of the Merry Christmas Bill allowing Christmas in public schools by a vote of 73-10. The measure now heads to a vote in the state senate.

If voting in neighboring states is any indication the chances of Oklahoma passing the bill are pretty good. If it does pass it goes into effect on September 1st, just in time for the 2014 holiday season.

If there will be court challenges to the law expect them in Oklahoma. The state has been a hotbed of Christian controversy since the state erected a monument to the Ten Commandments on capitol grounds claiming the Christian-based laws were a fundamental part of Oklahoma’s founding history. Since that time Oklahoma has endured lawsuits and proposals to remove the monument, even receiving an absurd offer from a Satanic society out of New York to put up a shrine to Satan to counter the monument.

The Merry Christmas Bill is designed to help public schools avoid costly lawsuits from out of state interests who bring their anti-religion agenda to bear by attacking the mention or acknowledgement of Christmas in public institutions. Schools are a favorite target of the anti-religious forces of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, who most often bankrolls the anti-Christmas efforts.

Oklahoma’s bill says public schools can display scenes or symbols associated with traditional winter celebrations on school property providing they include more than one religion or one religion and at least one secular symbol.

Republican Rep. Bobby Cleveland of Norman authored the bill and says the legislation will protect Oklahoma schools from lawsuits over religious-based holiday displays.

Opponents say such displays are already allowed. A proposal to include Kwanzaa, a celebration that honors African heritage, was tabled.

Florida Christmas Display Gets Sued

Florida Christmas Display Gets Sued

The now famous Hyatt Extreme Christmas display is being taken to court. The City of Plantation, Florida is suing the Hyatts, calling their display a public nuisance. The family Christmas display held each year on their home property has gained fame for its holiday spirit, traffic and crowds during the season and for the ongoing feud with city officials the rest of the year.

It appears the city of Plantation has had enough and is taking the gloves off.

The city filed a complaint in Broward Circuit Court seeking an injunction to the “nuisance” display. The complaint, filed late Friday, called the Hyatt house in Plantation Acres a “holiday spectacle” with its “larger than life commercial size display” that takes three months to assemble. The city also said the display has a “negative impact” on the community.

“The display is incompatible and inappropriate for a residential neighborhood,” said Mayor Diane Veltri Bendekovic. “The city considers the display to be a nuisance which must be abated to a nature and size compatible with the Hyatts’ residential neighborhood.”

Mark Hyatt emailed council members last week stating he was “disappointed” they would pursue court action.

“This is a Plantation tradition has done nothing but bring a positive light on our city,” he wrote. “There has never been a safety problem, only the one created by the mismanagement of last year on the city and police department part.”

The Hyatts have been in the news constantly over this issue. The city mayor famously dubbed the conflict a local version of “Hatfields and McCoys” last year. Neighbors have testified against the Hyatts for years begging for relief from the chaos the display generates in the neighborhood.

In emails sent to over the course of the past three months people claiming to be neighbors have insisted they are not anti-Christmas.

“We love Christmas just as much as the next guy,” a neighbor told us. “But Christmas is also peace and we want to enjoy that, too. They like the attention. They like the crowds. They like the media fawning over them. And that’s fine if they were located somewhere else. But they are here, in our yards, blocking our driveways and disturbing our peace. The city has to do something because the Hyatts don’t have the decency to be good neighbors.”

The Hyatts did scale back the hours of their display and removed a moving spotlight. The city tried to convince the Hyatts to hire off-duty detail to control the crowds, but they declined. So the city placed “no parking” signs on the major street near their home; people ignored the signs, even parked under them, and then scurried to their cars when police showed.

In December, the frustrated police chief paid three officers overtime to shut down the street to keep people from wandering in traffic to get to the Hyatts. People parked at a nearby church and made the eight-minute walk. Police Chief Howard Harrison said the city spent $5,000 for police overtime plus another $300 for crews to pick up trash afterward.

Hyatt’s attorney, Richard Skeen of Hollywood, did not return a message left with his secretary.

City officials said going to court was last resort, but felt compelled to take action, especially since Hyatt posted on his Facebook page in January that “we are busy planning even more fun things this year for Hyatt Extreme Christmas!”