Rick Perry is no stranger to political theater. As a presidential candidate, Perry put on a public prayer rally called “The Response” in an effort to show just how gosh darn Christian he was – as if anyone would doubt the governor of Texas.
But according to Raw Story, he’s still trying to show us his bona fides.
During an announcement of the signing of the so-called “Merry Christmas Bill,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry and state Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) said Thursday that freedom from religion was not included in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“I’m proud we are standing up for religious freedom in our state,” Perry said. “Freedom of religion doesn’t mean freedom from religion.”
I don’t know if it’s Raw Story or Perry’s administration, but the press conference seems to boil down to that one line: Freedom of religion doesn’t mean freedom from religion.
Catch phrases work best when you don’t overuse them. Anyway, what’s in the law that Perry is trumpeting? Here’s the core of H.B. 308:
“I think it was Thomas Jefferson who said the price of liberty is eternal vigilance,” Nichols remarked. “One of those freedoms is the freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and as the governor was saying the Constitution refers to the freedom of religion, not the freedom from religion.”
(a) A school district 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.”
(b) Except as provided by Subsection (c), 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.
(c) A display relating to a traditional winter celebration may not include a message that encourages adherence to a particular religious belief.
This is not particularly controversial. It’s basically what the civil libertarians have been advocating for decades: the government, including the schools, cannot promote any religion, even when it is the religion of the majority. However, space can be set aside for religious expression so long as all religions and secular institutions can take part.
So what was all that chest thumping about?