Santa Claus is coming … to Texas schools

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No more winter parties in Wichita Falls, nor holiday trees in Houston: Schoolchildren in the Lone Star State can now legally wish each other “Merry Christmas” without fear of legal prosecution.

(Actually, the law passed this past summer. But it would have been silly for Santa to Ho-Ho-Ho his way into the state Legislature then for a news conference, not to mention quite hot in that suit of his.)

From Texas lawmakers this week comes much ado about the Merry Christmas law, which in spite of the Christmas reference also protects Hanukkah. Schools may legally display nativity scenes, Christmas trees, menorahs and other “scenes and symbols associated with traditional winter celebrations” as long as more than one religion is referenced, or one religion and one secular symbol (snowman, Santa Claus, candy cane) are present. Students, teachers and guests also may say “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy Holidays” to one another legally.

Like a large, prettily wrapped box decked out in shiny paper and a big bow, this story could have held all the promise of a nice gift. I was shaking the computer screen, hoping inside the text would emerge a good read that thoughtfully addressed the complexities of the issue, seen as recently as this month in the Dallas suburb of Frisco when a politically correct memo on an elementary school’s winter parties was distributed.

The Associated Press story reads more like a quick-hit piece written on deadline, though, with just the press conference referenced. No background for newcomers, no new updates on  the Frisco fracas, nothing but a repackaging of the facts of the day.

Bah humbug.

“I’m proud to stand in defense of Christmas and I urge other states to stop a needless, stilted overreaction to Christmas and Hanukkah,” the law’s sponsor, Houston Republican Dwayne Bohac, said at a news conference Monday.

Bohac, who has a sign at home that proclaims: “Be Merry and Stay That Way,” said the law was meant to codify the religious freedoms of the First Amendment and keep “censorship of Christmas out of public schools.” He said it will stop “ridiculous” past lawsuits against some Texas schools in the name of excessive political correctness.

“This is a real issue in our country,” said Bohac, who said similar bills have been filed in state Legislatures in Alabama, Mississippi, Indiana and New Jersey, and that one is coming in Oklahoma.

Texas is the only state to so far approve such a law, which some civil libertarians have criticized as unnecessary given the First Amendment.

And now we’ll hear from the civil libertarians. Or someone in Frisco who thought the party planning letter was a good idea, maybe the author? Or anyone else.

(Cue the silent, falling snow.)

If this is, as Bohac says, a real issue in our country, why isn’t someone from the opposing side asked to weigh in? Doesn’t it take two sides to make an issue?

Bohac appeared Monday with his 8-year-old son Reagan and amid booming calls of “Ho! Ho! Ho!” from Santa Claus — aka Bill French of Houston — and a group called the Lone Star Santas. Bohac said Reagan inspired the bill when he was in first grade and was asked to decorate a “holiday tree” in class.

“A Winter Party; I don’t even know what that means,” said the elder Bohac. “We can celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah, those are the traditional holidays Americans celebrate.”

Better still, let’s talk about that nativity scene? Nah, the camels might get feisty.

For a better treatment, though, check out the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s meatier take, which mentions the Grinch and the American Civil Liberties Union.

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About Tamie Ross

Tamie Ross is a wife, mom, writer and all-around crazy-about-life girl now battling autoimmune disease. Her 20-year journalism career included stints as religion editor for The Oklahoman, online editor for The Christian Chronicle and freelancer for clients ranging from The Associated Press to United Methodist News Service. She has won state and national awards for her personal columns and editorials.

  • Dana F. Davis

    It would seem you all miss an obvious point: Public schools are not “state,” they are public. The were not created by the state, founded by the state, or governed by the state – they are publicly owned entities governed by a locally elected “school board.” Anything related to school therefore falls to local consensus democracy, community censure, and local penal code. If we retreat to the 1960s, what we find is two wholly unconstitutional Supreme Court decisions. Because public schools are NOT “state.”

  • Ymoore

    “The state” is the elected government– whether local, regional or national — and its institutions. Public schools are state-administered and financed by the taxes of all, regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof. In a multi-racial, religion etc country like the US, it’s important for public spaces to be safe places for all. It is not anti-Christian to respect the fact that we are a multi-racial, multi -faith, nation. And it is not Christian to use the power of state endorsement of a religious holiday to tell neighbors of minority religions they don’t belong. There is no shortage of privately owned properties for Nativity displays and Menorahs or statues of Buddha for that matter. I put my Christmas lights on my house last night.

    • Ymoore

      ww.washingtonpost.com/national/religion/hindu-group-wants-a-monument-on-oklahoma-capitol-grounds/2013/12/11/8fe5343c-62af-11e3-af0d-4bb80d704888_story.html

      Just saw this one. Really, not on public property.