Gov. Rick Perry: ‘Religious Freedom Does Not Mean Freedom From Religion’

We knew this was going to happen weeks ago but it’s finally official: You won’t be punished in Texas if you say “Merry Christmas” (everyone can breathe out now):

The bill, signed into law Thursday by Governor Rick Perry, promises that teachers and students can say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah” or “happy holidays” without repercussion. Even though no one was ever stopping them from doing that…

Religious holiday displays will also be allowed, as long as they don’t overtly promote one particular religion (tough loopholes are everywhere):

… 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.

Gov. Perry was thrilled about how he saved Christmas from those fictional people who were trying to ruin it:

“I realize it’s only June. But it’s a good June and the holidays are coming early this year,” Perry said. “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.”

Again: The bill wasn’t required because no one fought Christmas displays or sayings unless there was any sort of implication that the government was endorsing Christianity in some way… in other words, Perry signed a law to stop the people who defend the Constitution. Then, he trashed atheists in the process of promoting “religious freedom.”

And just to rub it in atheists’ faces, Perry invited the cheerleaders from Kountze High School to the signing ceremony. They came in red shirts that read “I cheer for Christ.”


Gov. Perry signs the ‘Merry Christmas’ bill with the Kountze cheerleaders (in red) behind him (Marjorie Kamys Cotera – The Texas Tribune)

Dave Muscato of American Atheists has already pointed out some of the inevitable consequences of this bill:

… 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.”

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that a Republican from Texas started another unnecessary war, even if it is just a made-up War on Christmas.

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.

  • Jasper

    So, Rick? May I call you Rick? Anyway, as a Christian, do you have freedom from Muslim doctrines and beliefs imposed on you?

  • closetatheist

    I really don’t understand what he meant by “religious freedom does not mean freedom from religion.” I mean, I know what it sounds like he meant, but I can’t bring myself to believe that some people seriously think that the constitution insists that all citizens practice some form of religion – and if they don’t then whatever the dominant religion is should be imposed on them…is that really what he meant? Or is he just a bumbling idiot who meant something else?

    christ, lets just cut our losses and let Texas become its own backwards, blinkered country so I can stop losing sleep at night over how that state is dragging the whole nation down.

  • observer

    Another consequence I could see, is that if you were to just nonchalantly say “Happy Holidays”, you may be accused of conspiring against Christianity.

  • anniewhoo

    So basically they can put up a nativity scene and then throw in a Christmas tree and say they are representing Christians and Pagans so all is well?

    What I would really like to know is how much money was used to pay salaries to these knuckleheads as they wrote, discussed, and voted on this bill?

  • anniewhoo

    Actually that was the only benefit I saw in all of this. Since the governor said ‘happy holidays’ was OK, I was hoping that meant people would no longer be berated for not saying ‘Merry Christmas’.

  • Liokae

    Oh, there’s plenty of people that believe not just that, but that the Constitution meant specifically that we only had the freedom to pick whatever branch of Christianity we favored.

  • Jasper

    Assuming for a moment that the phrase isn’t just a nice-sounding soundbite that none of them actually comprehend as a coherent thought, about the closest I can get to guessing what they mean is that we’re not free from seeing/observing/witnessing anyone else be religious… and that somehow means the government can endorse it?… or something?

  • closetatheist

    you may be right – it kind of makes sense in a very backwards sort of way. as in “fine, you don’t have to be religious, but we’re going to sanction the government’s right to rub our religiosity in your infidel face.” That would be keeping in line with the typical Christian fanatic attitude.

  • closetatheist

    ….and those are the same people who’ve never read one goddamned word of the Constitution. It makes me sick.

  • TnkAgn

    So secede already, Texas, and you’ll be free to institute a real Southern Baptist theocracy.

  • Rain

    It reminds me of the Taj Mahal for some reason.

  • Jasper

    I don’t think they were waiting on legislation to throw that accusation around.

  • Miss_Beara

    “Religious freedom does not mean freedom from religion.”

    These people are just salivating at the thought of a Christian theocracy. It is scary that these people are in power.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor


  • Beth

    But, but, but…this is a Christian nation!

  • Kate

    Ah! I just KNEW Santa was a Texan!

  • Steve

    I can see a rabbi and is that Father Christmas at the back? Go, Texas, you already look a fool in the eyes of the rest of the world!

  • Houndentenor

    What they mean is that it’s okay to have another religion so long as it’s some other kind of Christianity.

  • Matt Eggler

    Man at Bar: “Let me by you a drink.”
    Recovering Alcoholic: “No thank you, but it was nice of you to offer.”
    Man at Bar: “C’mon, you have all these beers, wines and liquors to choose from.”
    Recovering Alcoholic: “I’m sorry but I don”t drink.”
    Man at Bar: “Hey! Freedom of alcohol doesn’t mean freedom FROM alcohol!”

    These people never bother to think about what the things they say actually mean.

  • Gideon

    Not to give them any more ideas for loopholes, but I wonder if the bit about “at least one secular scene or symbol” could be satisfied by any one pole on the school grounds? As a symbol of secular Festivus?

  • Houndentenor

    Let the airing of grievances begin!

  • Houndentenor

    Ugh. No, these people don’t think at all or they would hear how stupid they sound.

  • midnight rambler

    Yes actually, they do mean that, and a whole lot of people feel that way. Just to give some examples that come to mind from recent news, the Boy Scouts and the Indonesian constitution say so explicitly. It’s implied that they would like you to be Christian or Muslim respectively, but as long as you belong to some religion then you’re okay. It’s only atheists and other nonreligious people who are truly on the shitlist.

    I suppose it’s because it’s not such a big step from one Christian denomination to another, and then to something like Judaism or Islam; because even though they’re bitterly opposed ideologically, and hold different beliefs, there’s a fundamental sameness in the kind of thinking. But not believing in any gods is so different that a lot of religious people just can’t comprehend it.

  • Antinomian

    Cant’ let ‘em go CA. They have too much oil. We have to invade and impose freedom on them. /s

  • Antinomian

    And the feats of strength!

  • Hat Stealer

    Even if atheists didn’t exist, freedom of religion would still mean freedom from religion, because they’re the same fucking thing. If you have religious freedom, that means other people aren’t allowed to impose their beliefs on yours. You have freedom from their religion. Freedom from religion is such a basic, integral part, that it’s arguably the only thing that makes ‘freedom of religion’ actually mean anything. It’s amazing how many people don’t realize that (I imagine it’s because they’ve never put any thought in to it. After all, they’re the dominant Christians; they’ve never had to ponder what religious freedom actually means because they’ve never had theirs threatened. Christian privilege again.)

  • DougI

    Perry is dumber than a sack of hammers, therefore he’s a great representatives for those who voted for him.

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    “I cheer for Christ.”

    No, you do not. You cheer for a high school football team in texas. I love the pettiness that they think god, if he exists, cares whether they win or lose.

  • fmfalcao

    The governor has to justify his job somehow.

  • trj

    Happy war on Christmas, everybody!

    I’m legally allowed to say that now, right?

  • LesterBallard

    I fucking hate, loathe, and despise these fucking people.

  • Dan Arel

    If they want a war on christmas, we will give them a war on christmas.

  • Crazy Russian

    “Freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion” ~ I swear I’m gonna use this stupid soundbite next time some fucktard starts bitching about another mosque built anywhere.

  • Timothy R Alexander

    and of course they’re the ones that scream the loudest about “Defending” the constitution.

  • Miss_Beara

    Meanwhile, Rick Perry vetoes an equal pay law because “he was concerned that it could lead to more regulations and hurt job creation.”

    Merry Christmas everyone!

  • fsm

    I think that you should apologize to hammers everywhere for suggesting that they are not much smarter than Perry.

  • Aspieguy

    Does the governor of Texas have this much time he can sign unneeded laws? Our state recently elected an evangelical christian as governor, but he is no where as batshit crazy as Rick Perry.

  • DougI

    You’re right, I’m sorry. At least hammers have some value to society.

  • Randay

    For Rick Perry, if he wants to establish a state religion, he may be surprised that in a few years the majority may be Catholic given the increasing number of Latinos there. So how would he feel about Texas becoming a Catholic state? I say just give Texas back to Mexico where it belongs.

  • corps_suk

    Cant wait for a teacher to put up a display of the the solstice with the phrase

    “Winter…happens every year naturally, there is no god, believe in YOURSELF kids”

    Then we will see how much freedom Perry wants government employees to have regarding their religion and work.

  • JA

    It’s Texas…they have all the time in the world for needless laws because that’s all they care about.

  • closetatheist

    You are so very right – there can be no freedom of religion unless there is freedom from religion. Thanks for the insight, I’m keeping this in the back of my mind for my next discussion with a fanatic.

  • ishmael2009

    From outside, all Americans seem nuts, the liberals as much as the conservatives. So what if someone wants christmas trees in school? America was founded by Puritans, not muslims or buddhists or whatever. But anyway, go nuts at someone for celebrating their heritage. Freaks.

  • baal

    Aren’t you supposed to be on a boat?

  • hisangel713

    he’s not IMPOSING them, he’s simply ALLOWING them to speak freely. Is telling a Christian that they are not allowed to speak freely not imposing on their rights? telling a christian they are not allowed to speak freely? we allow people to walk around and wear FU shirts but someone can’t wear a Jesus Saves shirt? If I weren’t a Christian I would STILL not want the FU shirt seen by my kids! People should have the RIGHT to their 1st amendment right…..freedom of speech. You have the right to hate God and Christians have the right to love him……..PERIOD!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Lagerbaer

    Yes, he has enough time now ever since he handed over the governing part to Jeebus.

  • Sin Jeong-hun (신정훈)

    Religion is like tobacco. It only look accpetable and allowed because so many people are addicted to it. A few decades ago, people could smoke in offices and in buses. Now if you do that, we wil be kicked out. Religion in schools? Future people will look like crazy, assuming we maintained our earth from all those crazy religious nuts.

  • Taliesin Hoyle

    What a lot of Kountz!

  • Ann Onymous

    Here goes…
    He’s allowing public schools to advertise and endorse Christianity. A public school is not an individual, it’s a government-funded institution with massive influence on kids. It doesn’t have the same standards for free speech as a person, the same way we don’t let schools have banners in the cafeteria reading “BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD” or “VOTE FOR OBAMA”. An individual is quite within her rights to wear a shirt with such a legend, but a public school’s not within its rights to display it.
    Atheists don’t hate gods. We don’t think they exist. Do you hate unicorns?
    Also, ending a sentence with the word “period” doesn’t make you right. It just makes you sound arrogant. The many exclamation points also didn’t help, and made you sound rather hysterical.

  • Ann Onymous

    Or they can put up a full-sized nativity scene in the cafeteria, but put a postage stamp with a Hebrew thingy in the very back where you can’t see it unless you take it apart, and that’d be fine. Or as another commenter mentioned, a nativity scene representing Catholics and Protestants.

  • carin

    Anyone who is atheist really can’t count past three.