Merry Christmas seems like an innocuous time-tested and pleasant greeting during the winter holiday season that goes back centuries, but increasing politicization of the holiday has caused such anxiety over possible litigation and political correctness that legislators in some states have actually moved to officially make it legal to publicly recognize faith-based holidays. Texas state representatives are on a mission to remind people of the Merry Christmas law passed and signed by Governor Rick Perry in 2013. The law protects the legal rights of those who celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah to give their traditional greetings and display their decorations in a public forum without fear of legal reprisal, persecution or censorship.
Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston) and Richard Raymond (D-Laredo) jointly wrote and sponsored House Bill 308 after Bohac’s first grade son, Reagan told him they were decorating a holiday tree with holiday ornaments at school. Upon investigating why they were calling a Christmas tree a holiday tree, Bohac discovered political correctness had so run amok that the elimination of Christmas was fear-based. Administrators were so uneasy about the possibility of lawsuits by those who do not celebrate the religious holidays that they just banned “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah” greetings, decorations and observances altogether. Bohac and Raymond just want to bring some common sense, whimsy and joy back to the holiday.
The Merry Christmas law makes it legal to acknowledge Christmas and Hanukkah on school grounds without incurring legal consequences or punishment. Teachers and students are free to say “Happy Hanukkah” or “Merry Christmas” if they choose and goes even further in specifically permitting room decorations, Christmas trees, nativity scenes and menorahs. The law does not condone heavy-handed proselytizing or pressuring anyone to adopt any particular religious beliefs or celebrate a certain holiday. Raymond explains that the law is not about forcing a belief system on anyone, but making it OK for those that do celebrate the holidays to talk about it and show it publicly without having to hide a part of who they are.
Bohac maintains that fear had so taken over common sense that legalism was sucking the joy out of the holidays and making it almost shameful for anyone to admit that they celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah. His intent is to bring back the fun and the magic and show that people of different faiths can co-exist peacefully during the Christmas and Hanukkah season.
In the inaugural year of the law’s implementation last year, there was a dispute over whether the Frisco Independent School District tried to ban red and green Christmas decorations, Christmas trees and any verbal or written reference to Christmas. The superintendent denied it but Bohac and Raymond want to make schools this year are aware of their right to hold such observations, if they choose. School districts in Austin, Round Rock and Leander are on board with allowing Christmas and Hanukkah celebrations within their schools and the confines of state law. Raymond says the effect of the Merry Christmas law on classrooms is very positive.
Texas Values, headed by Jonathan Saenz, is behind an ad campaign and website to remind Texans of their rights under the new law. They want teachers and students alike to be able to celebrate the holiday of their choice without worries of retribution. By making Merry Christmas legal, the law draws clear lines on what is permissible and not during the Christmas and Hanukkah season, bringing relief to teachers, principals and superintendents who can now freely celebrate the holiday of their choice. By removing fear from the equation, everyone can go back to enjoying their celebrations without worrying about future retribution. Tennessee and Oklahoma have passed similar bills in 2014. That’s three down, 47 to go in Bohac’s quest to spread the idea of the Merry Christmas law to other states and make it legal for common sense to rule over political correctness.
by Tamara Christine Van Hooser
My Fox Austin
Photo courtesy of Elliott Brown – Flickr Image