Texas Set to Pass Bill Protecting the Phrase ‘Merry Christmas’ from… Well… No One, Really

Texas Governor Rick Perry is set to sign a bill (HB 308) that will allow teachers and students to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah” or “happy holidays” without repercussion.

Even though no one was ever trying to stop them.

The same bill allows for holiday displays, too:

… a school district may display on school property scenes or symbols associated with traditional winter celebrations, including a menorah or a Christmas image such as a nativity scene or Christmas tree, if the display includes a scene or symbol of:

(1) more than one religion; or
(2) one religion and at least one secular scene or symbol.

A display relating to a traditional winter celebration may not include a message that encourages adherence to a particular religious belief.

So schools can put up secular holiday displays that are religious in nature as long as they don’t promote religion. Or something like that.

So what’s the point?

To promote Christianity, of course:

“They’re claiming that they’re under oppression,” ["The Atheist Experience" co-host Russell Glasser] said, “and they use this as an excuse all the time to pass laws that basically codify Christianity and make sure that everybody hears about it as often as possible.”

“It’s not about freedom of expression, because kids can go around and wish each other ‘Merry Christmas’ all they want,” he insisted. “There’s a lot bigger things for people to worry about if they care about the separation of church and state.”

Gov. Perry’s office wasn’t helping dismiss that notion, either:

Asked for comment on whether the governor would sign the bill, Perry spokesman Josh Havens told The Huffington Post, “This bill is about the freedom of religion, not freedom from religion, and Gov. Perry supports it.”

In other words, the legislators in Texas have passed a bill that restates something that’s already codified in the law. Look, the only time atheists ever complain about these things are when the public schools are promoting one religion over another or religion over no religion. You don’t need a new bill to do this — you just have to look to existing law.

And did you see the wording on the bill? It says a Nativity Scene could be displayed in public schools as long as the display includes a scene or symbol of at least one other religion.

Theoretically, that means you could have a Catholic Nativity Scene and a Baptist Nativity Scene.

That means you could also have a Nativity Scene with a small Hindu “Om” sticker tucked away somewhere in the manger where no one can see it.

What… do those things go against the spirit of this bill? Well, the entire bill goes against the spirit of the Constitution.

Dave Muscato of American Atheists echoed those sentiments:

… Muscato feared that the passage of this bill would be seen as a public victory for religion over what he calls equality. “In practice this will probably play out as Christian administrators putting up Christmas trees and nativity scenes at taxpayer expense in public schools with the result of pressuring children into viewing Christianity as an officially sponsored and endorsed practice,” he said.

Seeing no “legitimate secular purpose for this” bill, he opposed it because it might imply “government endorsement and unnecessarily entangles government and religion.”

That’s exactly it. This bill, that’s supposed to promote religious freedom, somehow violates religious freedom.

Good thing Texas legislators are working on this issue instead of doing something more worthwhile like, you know, regulating fertilizer plants.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

    Merry Fucking Christmas

    http://www.myspace.com/video/craig/merry-fucking-christmas/6114487

    And Yes, Myspace is still alive. Only place I could find the video though. Sadly South Part often sums up how I feel about things in life.

  • Matt

    “Theoretically, that means you could have a Catholic Nativity Scene and a Baptist Nativity Scene”

    This is immediately what I thought of too, but I was thinking Christianity and Mormonism (a little less gray maybe than Catholic/Protestant representation). Also, any scene from the Old Testament is automatically representing multiple religions.

    Basically, from the blockquote summary of the bill, absolutely any Christian display imaginable is A-okay. Complete bullshit.

    • Space Cadet

      My first thought was that they probably think they already have the religious diversity part covered. All they have to do is hide a menorah amongst the fields of crosses they’ll have up. Then, it’s not just Christianity, but Judeo-Christian. Boom! Diversity.

      • allein

        Nah, they’ll just stick a menorah off to the side where people won’t notice it much.
        My work (granted, a private company with a majority of Hispanic workers in the building) puts a Christmas tree in the lobby, and this year they had a big inflatable Santa, too (the kind you see in people’s yards…it was only there for a day or two; I imagine the receptionist wasn’t too happy with the noise of the motor)…and a small menorah on the counter behind the reception desk. (There are a handful of Jewish people in the office area where I work and they usually put up their own menorah on top of one of the filing cabinets at the end of one aisle.) Often out in the warehouse you can find at least one area with a snowman made of garbage bags and packing peanuts.

        • eonL5

          Snowmen have nothing to do with religion, unless you dress it up to do so. And in my view, Christmas Trees(R) don’t either. But that’s just me. Always had a tree. Never believed any of the Jesus myth. No “christmas trees” in the bible.

          • allein

            Agreed, but they’re still generally associated with a specific religion’s holiday. (The trees, I mean; snowmen are usually just winter.)
            .
            (Just to be clear, I have no problem with any of the decorations here. As I said, it’s a private company. They also have a sizeable Indian population of workers and they celebrate Diwali every year as well, with lights and special menus in the cafeteria.)

          • LadyNightthorn

            As I understand it, putting gifties on and under an evergreen tree was part of pagan blessings for the coming year.

  • Ian Burch

    I’m quite religious, and I can only imagine the shitstorm of horrifying menageries we’ll be lucky enough to see starting around November. I say someone starts a tumblr.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

      Yahoo owns Tumblr now so they most likely will destroy it by November.

      • Spuddie

        You mean I will have to pay for my Tumblr porn?

        Noooooooooooooooooooo

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

          There is porn on Tumblr? Inquiring minds want to know, more :)

          • Spuddie

            From what I heard and what “my friends E-mailed me about”
            [or at least that's what I tell the missus]

          • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

            I didn’t know there was anything BUT porn on Tumblr. LOL

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

              I have never been to their website to be honest. If I want porn I have much better sources.

  • Gus Snarp

    I think the bigger problem with the wording is that it would allow a nativity scene (one religious item) and a Christmas tree (one secular item). That doesn’t cut it. Fortunately, it doesn’t matter what this state law allows, since it’s baldly unconstitutional.

    Oh, and I hope the lawsuits are filed by Jehovah’s Witnesses, rather than atheists. I expect Texas has its share of those, and the state will look a lot worse to the public up against a minority religion that still thumps its Bibles.

    • roz77

      A nativity scene and a Christmas tree together in a single display is probably going to be fine. The real problem is that this bill would allow a two religious holiday symbols to be displayed together with no secular symbols. That display would be baldly unconstitutional.

      • Gus Snarp

        I don’t think putting a Christmas tree, or any other strictly secular symbol, up next to the nativity makes it constitutional at all. The nativity is still the only symbol promoting a religion, and that’s unconstitutional. Putting up a symbol that does not promote a religion next to it is not more constitutional. Every symbol that’s not expressly religious is secular, just like the Christmas tree.

        Think of how many symbols are already in the classroom that lack a religious purpose. Wouldn’t they already play that role? What if it were a courtroom and there was a sculpture of the scales of justice. That’s a secular symbol. Can the judge now hang the Ten Commandments in that classroom?

        • roz77

          So I seem to have totally glossed over the fact that the bill was specifically talking about displays in public schools, not just random displays on government buildings or land. My bad. In that case, you’re probably right. I am not aware of any case where the situation you described actually occurred but I can’t imagine it would be constitutional. Courts tend to take a much harder line with stuff that happens inside of classrooms, especially because there could be coercive aspects with displays, not just endorsement aspects.

          So yea, since this bill is totally focused on classroom displays, both allowable types of displays seem pretty blatantly unconstitutional.

          • Gus Snarp

            Yes, the classroom aspect is important. Of course, in my example I started with a courtroom and magically turned it into a classroom! Oops!

  • A3Kr0n

    “…doing something more worthwhile like, you know, regulating fertilizer plants.”
    Texas legislators don’t want to regulate themselves…

  • TiltedHorizon

    What a waste of time. What they should be doing is outlawing the practice of saying ‘gesundheit’ instead of ‘god bless you’ or ‘bless you’ after sneezes. As everyone who knows about “TRUE TRUE FACTS which are TRUE” understands, gesundheit is part of an atheist plot to resurrect Hitler’s vision of an atheist regime. EVIL!!!

    Disclaimer: There is a slight chance that the flame spamming in the “Atheists Are Still Going to Hell” thread has made me insane in the membrane.

  • Guest

    Florida already made Merry Christmas the “official state greeting” during the holiday season. Ha! Take that Texas! SMH

    • Space Cadet

      Your tax dollars at work.

    • Spuddie

      Elect a Tea-bagger governor, get bullshit laws.

  • Rachel Warner

    Personal, I have no problem with folks wishing a Merry Christmas. I think it’s done as a gesture of good will. Do they really need to pass a bill ?

    • TurelieTelcontar

      No, they don’t.
      And I didn’t understand the problem people have with “Merry Christmas” either, until I heard that there seem to be obnoxious people using it in an aggressive/spiteful voice to people who are obviously of a different faith/non-religious.

    • Spuddie

      But if you are not forced into homilies in praise of Baby Jesus, what is the point of Christianity?

  • Guest

    Americans United for Separation of Church and State blogged on this awhile back: https://www.au.org/blogs/wall-of-separation/merry-christmas-in-may-texas-legislators-reaffirm-right-to-use-holiday

  • Guest

    Americans United for Separation of Church and State blogged about this on May 13: https://www.au.org/blogs/wall-of-separation/merry-christmas-in-may-texas-legislators-reaffirm-right-to-use-holiday

  • Matt Potter

    I am in Texas and have two young children in public school. I will not hesitate to connect FFRF or another group if this nonsense is allowed in my children’s school. I will also make sure to donate a large FSM to whatever the display is, to show my faith of Pastafarian.

  • Amazing America

    Because US politicians are famous for doing nothing in particular and getting reelected for that too.

  • WallofSleep

    “This bill is about the freedom of religion, not freedom from religion…”

    That bullshit might play well in the school yard, but that kind of ‘thinking’ doesn’t cut it in the grown adult world. The right to have no religion is implicit in the phrase “Freedom of Religion”.

    :sigh: Am I gonna be a crusty old coot before we manage to get all these mental midgets out of the halls of power in this country? Please, don’t answer that.

    • Spuddie

      Gov. Perry is doing whatever he can to remind voters that he was considered too stupid by his own party to run for national office.

      • Willy Occam

        And apparently, he’s planning to run again in 2016.

        Uggh….

        • Spuddie

          The guy is a real glutton for punishment. Maybe 2016 is a good time for Elizabeth Warren to run for president for the Democrats. We know the GOP candidates will do for political campaigns what Marquis De Sade for amateur theater. (See “Quills” and “Marat/Sade”)

          Warren has zeal and genuine concern for the middle and working classes and none of the baggage of Hillary (who in all fairness, comes off as a bit of an elitist).

  • WallofSleep

    “Good thing Texas legislators are working on this issue instead of doing
    something more worthwhile like, you know, regulating fertilizer plants.”

    Jobs, economy, taxes, oh… wait, there’s Jesus!

  • Bdole

    “will allow teachers and students to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah” or “happy holidays” without repercussion.”

    Because those who say “Happy Hannukah” are the same ones worried about the war on Christmas, and do not at all ovelap with those who are left out of the whole Merry Christmas and Christmas ONLY paradigm.

    Yeah, all along Chrstians have been fighting for the rights of minority religions against a common atheistic foe. Yup.

    Who the fuck is doing all the complaining about “happy holidays”?! Remind me who it is that attempts to boycott stores for saying that every year.

  • ORAXX

    This is exactly the type of non-solution to a non-problem governor ‘good hair’ loves dealing with. It does not require much thought, does not involve actual governance, and allows Mr. Perry to pander to the evangelical mob.

  • maddogdelta

    Well, at least I’m protected now if I wish everyone Io, Satunalia!

  • Rain

    “and they use this as an excuse all the time to pass laws that basically codify Christianity and make sure that everybody hears about it as often as possible.”

    Why would anyone want to hear their nonsense. It doesn’t even make any sense. Tribalism is a strong instinct I guess. We wouldn’t have civilization without it. Some really dumb stuff creeps in their sometimes though. Oh well.

  • Vern

    So they didn’t have time to vote on allowing Tesla to sell cars in the state(more business, yea), but they had time for this BS? Priorities, priorities…

  • LadyNightthorn

    What’s wrong with saying ‘Happy Holidays’? There are so many holidays around this time of year it would take half an hour to go through them all. And if I greet a Xtian who insists on saying only ‘Merry Chirstmas’ I will make them stand there as I greet them with every holiday lodged between Samhain (late October) to V-day (mid-February)… Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Hanukkah , Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Yule, Merry Solstice, Happy Valentines day…


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