Fox News is reporting that Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) signed House Bill 308 — dubbed the “Merry Christmas Bill”— which removes the legal risk of saying "Merry Christmas" in schools for fear of violating the "separation of church and state." It also protects traditional holiday symbols, such as a menorah or nativity scene, so long as more than one religion and a secular symbol are also displayed.
The bill states that "a school district may educate students about the history of traditional winter celebrations, and allow students and district staff to offer traditional greetings regarding the celebrations, including: 1) "Merry Christmas"; 2) "Happy Hanukkah" and; 3) "happy holidays".
The bill also allows a school district to display scenes or symbols associated with the season, such as a Christmas tree, nativity scene, or menorah, provided the display includes a scene or symbol of more than one religion or one religion and at least one secular scene or symbol.
No display is permitted to include a message that encourages adherence to a particular religious belief.
Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R) of Houston, said he drafted the bill after a disturbing conversation with his son.
“This bill originated when I picked up my first grade son from school last year and asked him how his day went. He told me that his class had decorated their holiday tree with holiday ornaments. When I asked what a holiday tree was, he told me it was the same as a Christmas tree. After inquiring with school officials as to why the term ‘Holiday Tree’ was being used, it became apparent that the school was fearful of litigation.”
The bill's co-sponsor, State Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville), said he got involved after hearing so many complaints from his constituents.
"I have heard from many constituents who dislike that it is becoming less culturally acceptable to openly celebrate these holidays in the ways past generations have. To me this is a matter of helping our teachers and administrators feel safe talking about these holidays at school without fear of legal action being taken against them. I commend Representative Bohac's initiative and look forward to seeing this bill passed. We are currently standing at a cultural crossroads in our society, and this is one step forward for those defending our traditional values and beliefs."
The bill sailed through both houses of the Texas legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Perry on June 13.
"I realize it's only June. But it's a good June and the holidays are coming early this year," Perry said at the signing. "It's a shame that a bill like this one I'm signing today is even required, but I'm glad that we're standing up for religious freedom in this state. Religious freedom does not mean freedom from religion."
As he signed the bill, a group of bell-ringing Santas stood behind him along with memebers of the Kountze High School cheerleading squad from East Texas who were briefly banned by their school district for displaying banners with bible verses at football games. A judge eventually ruled that the school violated the students' free speech rights.
Bohac is now hoping to start a national movement to pass similar laws in other states that will finally put an end to the infamous "Christmas wars" that spring up every year.
"We hope that this is a fire that will take off and become laws in the other 49 states," said Bohac, who says his bill has already attracted national attention.
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