Louisiana’s version of the Merry Christmas Bill has cleared the state senate and appears headed for easy passage in the house. Public schools will be able to display Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and secular decorations, and students and faculty can freely exchange such greetings if House Bill 876 becomes law.
Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, had little trouble getting what he termed “a simple bill” through the House Education Committee.
“There’s a lot of confusion,” he said. “People don’t know what they can do or say. I engage in that type of litigation, so I get calls from schools asking what they can do.”
Seabaugh said he’d like to take credit for the proposed law, but he borrowed it from Texas, which already has what’s known as the “Merry Christmas Law.”
It’s a compilation of U.S. Supreme Court rulings on the matter.
“I would have liked to go farther,” he said, but he decided to keep it precise.
“It’s OK to have a Christmas tree and a Christmas pageant,” he said. “You don’t have to say ‘Happy Holidays.’”
The original bill spelled out that it “authorizes a school board to educate students about the history of traditional celebrations in winter and to allow students and district staff to offer traditional greetings regarding the celebrations, including Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy Holidays.”
Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge, asked, “Would you have a problem including Kwanzaa in there?”
“Is that a winter celebration?” Seabaugh asked. “Is it a traditional historical one?”
“For African-Americans it is,” Smith answered.
“I think I would (have a problem) because I don’t think it’s historical,” Seabaugh said.
After Smith lectured him on the traditions of Kwanzaa, he agreed that it should be included, so the committee approved Smith’s amendment adding “Happy Kwanzaa” to the list of acceptable greetings.
The bill also authorizes a school board to display on school property scenes or symbols associated with traditional celebrations in winter, including a menorah or a Christmas image, such as a nativity scene or Christmas tree, if the display includes a scene or symbol of more than one religion or a display featuring one religion and at least one secular scene or symbol.
It prohibits a display relating to a traditional celebration from including a message that encourages adherence to a particular religious belief.
“They can’t get in trouble for educating people about traditional holidays,” Seabaugh said.
Putting the information into state law “let’s everybody know they can say ‘Merry Christmas’ and put up a Christmas tree, and they don’t have to call it a holiday tree.”
The bill now goes to the House for debate.
Local media has lined up behind the bill and most resistance to it appears to be coming from out of state sources.