Governor Perry Signs Bill Allowing Teachers and Students to Say "Merry Christmas"
Last December, Houston Representative Dwayne Bohac picked up his son from first grade and asked what he'd done in class. His son answered that they'd decorated their "holiday tree" with "holiday ornaments."
Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor
This concerned Bohac. "Why do we call it a holiday tree at school, but a Christmas tree at home?" Bohac said.
When he expressed his sentiments to the school district office, he was told the school didn't use terms such as "Christmas" because they were fearful of litigation.
This inspired Bohac to draft House Bill 308, legislation that allows students and teachers to wish each other a "Merry Christmas," "Happy Hanukkah" or (the pretty secular) "Happy Holidays" and to provide teachers the opportunity to educate students on the history of traditional winter holidays.
Governor Rick Perry signed what has become known as the "Merry Christmas bill" last week. In addition to permitting holiday greetings, the legislation also says that schools are allowed to display scenes or symbols associated with winter holidays on school property, such as a Christmas tree or a menorah, as long as there is at least one other religious or secular symbol present as well.
The fact that no one -- no child, no teen, no grown-up -- has ever been sued in Texas for saying "Merry Christmas" apparently didn't lessen any of the glow of this special moment or the driving force behind this bill.
"It's a shame a bill like this one I'm signing today is even required," Perry said on Thursday. "But I'm proud that we're standing up for our religious freedom in this state."
Present at the signing were Santa impersonators and the Kountze cheerleaders, who just last month celebrated their own victory for religious expression.
"Religious freedom does not mean freedom from religion," Perry said. "Last October...I said that government leaders owe it to the people of all religious faiths, all people who want to project their expressions of faith, to ensure everyone has the right to voice their opinions and worship as they see fit. And I pledge to work during the legislative session to find ways to preserve religious expression and explore ways to protect people of faith."
Bohac's Chief of Staff, Brandon Pepper, told Hair Balls that rather than creating a new law, the Merry Christmas bill is outlining what is already accepted and gives the school district something to point to during the holiday season.
"We don't need our schools and our teachers and administrators worried about frivolous lawsuits, and that's what this bill does," state Senator Robert Nichols said.
Nichols might have been thinking of the ongoing so-called "candy cane case" as an example, which started in 2003 over public school officials in Plano, Texas, banning students from handing out gifts with religious meaning and preventing a class from writing "Merry Christmas" on cards to U.S. troops serving overseas.