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!”