Bill Protects Holiday Greetings, Displays in Public Schools
Austin, TX, May 17, 2013 – Today HB 308, the “Merry Christmas” Bill, received final passage by the Texas Senate and is now headed to Gov. Perry’s desk. State Representative Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston) and State Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) authored HB 308, which received overwhelming bipartisan support in the Texas House and Texas Senate. Joint Authors of HB 308 included Rep. Richard Raymond (D-Laredo), Rep. Craig Eiland (D-Texas City), and Rep. Michael Villarreal (D-San Antonio). HB 308 makes it clear that public schools and their staff are permitted to acknowledge and educate students about historic and cultural roots of traditional winter celebrations and holidays such as Christmas, Hanukkah and others, and with school displays that can include Christmas trees, a Menorah, a Nativity scene, Santa Claus, Reindeer and more.
The legislation also makes it clear that school districts, staff, and students are permitted to use greetings such as “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Hanukkah,” “Happy Holidays” or others. Christmas has been recognized as a federal holiday by the United States since the 1870s. Texas school districts have seen long and costly court cases over Christmas expressions in Plano and Katy, and Fort Worth was recently involved in a controversy over Santa Claus at a public school. Landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases have made it clear that such expressions and displays are permissible.
“The idea for this bill originated when I picked up my six-year-old son from school and he told me that his class decorated a holiday tree with holiday ornaments instead of a Christmas Tree,” Rep. Bohac said. “Parents and educators want the freedom to decorate Christmas trees, use traditional holiday greetings, display Menorahs and generally celebrate traditional winter holidays on school grounds. HB 308 will protect school districts from frivolous lawsuits and teachers from retribution for saying such benign things as ‘Merry Christmas’ by codifying Supreme Court precedent.” Senator Robert Nichols agreed, saying: “I commend Representative Bohac’s initiative on this issue. We are currently standing at a cultural crossroads in our society, and this is one step forward for those defending our traditional values and beliefs.”
“We hope HB 308 will decrease the number of school districts being naughty and increase the one’s being nice,” said Jonathan Saenz, attorney and president of Texas Values. “This common sense legislation tracks Supreme Court precedent, providing a solid roadmap for public school officials to follow and should help school districts respect First Amendment rights and avoid costly litigation,” concluded Saenz.
HB 308 received wide support during the legislative process but was opposed by the ACLU and the Texas Freedom Network, a liberal advocacy group in Austin.