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.