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.


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