June 17, 2013
Statement by Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker / Co-Presidents Freedom From Religion Foundation
Grandstanding pols in Texas last week passed the “Merry Christmas” bill, supposedly to ensure that public school students and teachers can say “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah” unimpeded.
As MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow put it, “Thanks to Governor Perry, it’s not illegal to say Merry Christmas. Was it ever illegal to say Merry Christmas in Texas? You know, you never can be too careful, but saying Merry Christmas is now doubly, triply, merrily, Rick Perryily protected in Texas.”
“Holiday” seems to be a dirty word to the Christian Right. A propagandistic website devoted to seeding similar bills in other states reflects this scorn by having a child ask, “Daddy, why do we have a Christmas tree at home and a holiday tree at school?” Yet, inexplicably, the new law also explicitly protects the right to say that greeting most reviled by Bill O’Reilly: “Happy holidays.”
Ha-ha, just another stupid bill out of Texas, right? The “Merry Christmas” greeting is garnering the headlines, but the law’s real purpose is to put nativity scenes into public schools. At his June 13 press conference, Perry said: “I’m proud we are standing up for religious freedom in our state. Freedom of religion doesn’t mean freedom from religion.” Perry insisted “people of faith” are “under attack.” In attendance were several Kountze cheerleaders wearing red “I cheer for Christ” T-shirts. They recently sued for the right to hold up bible banners for football players to run through at school games, a case that began, by the way, with a letter of complaint by FFRF.
Also speaking was bill sponsor Rep. Dwayne Bohac. Who could argue with his remark: “This is political correctness run amok and our brains have completely fallen out”? State Senator Robert Nichols, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, represents both Kountze and Henderson County. Although not naming FFRF, Nichols referred to FFRF’s complaint two years ago — which created a firestorm — over a huge nativity scene dominating one corner of the Henderson County courthouse.
The law they all lauded encourages school districts to display religious symbols, including nativity scenes, on school property — providing either a secular symbol is next to it or two religious symbols are erected together. If a school district puts up Frosty the Snowman, it can then erect a crèche depicting the supposed miraculous birth of the Christian savior. Putting a menorah next to a nativity scene in a public school setting to “secularize” religious displays is like saying two wrongs make a right.
Court precedent on manger scenes and menorahs is tortured. You can turn a nativity display on government property “secular” simply by planting two reindeer next to it. But such precedent emphatically does not apply to public schools where young and impressionable students are a captive audience.
After the press conference, Perry left to travel to Ralph Reed’s Faith & Freedom Coalition conference in Washington over the weekend. Isn’t it time, Governor, as Dan’s song about Perry puts it, to: “Get Off Your Knees and Get to Work”?
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation’s largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.