Lawyers to Killeen ISD: Christmas Poster Should Stay
Texas Values Legal Team Sends Letter on Behalf of Employee, Board Meeting Tuesday
Today, Texas Values announced their legal representation of Killeen Independent School District (ISD) staff member Dedra Shannon, who was asked to remove portions of a Christmas poster that she had displayed on her door at Charles E. Patterson Middle School. Our legal team sent a letter to Killeen ISD to inform them that “there is nothing in federal or state law that requires [the school district] to censor Ms. Shannon’s poster.”
Ms. Shannon was forced to have her Christmas door decorations torn down by the school’s principal because they were “an issue of separation of church and state.” Ms. Shannon is a clinic aide who decorated the nurse’s office door with a scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas with a direct quote from Linus, when Linus tells Charlie Brown about the religious history of Christmas. The principal told Ms. Shannon that the drawing of the Linus character and symbol could stay, but Linus’s quote referencing the religious history of Christmas that included the word “Christ” had to be removed, if not, the entire poster had to be removed.
The issue occurred last week and has received national attention. Numerous people contacted the school board about the issue in favor of Ms. Shannon, but it appears some of the officials want to continue the ban. As a result of this, the issue has now been placed on the agenda for discussion tomorrow (Tuesday, Dec. 13th) at the Killeen ISD School Board Meeting.
The legal letter states in part,
We want to clarify that there is nothing illegal about what Ms. Shannon has done. The Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” U.S. Const. amend. I (emphasis added). Ms. Shannon’s display is no more an “establishment of religion” than reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools..
The school district’s suggestion that Ms. Shannon is “impos[ing] [her] personal beliefs on students” by decorating her door in this manner is hyperbolic and defamatory, and evinces a gross hostility to religion.
In fact, the Merry Christmas law was designed to make it clear to school officials that displays like Ms. Shannon’s are within state law. The Merry Christmas law was designed to help schools avoid such public controversies and incorrect conclusions about the law. In this case, these incorrect conclusions about the law by the school principal led to the unnecessary demand that the Christmas poster come down, the opposite of what the Merry Christmas law provides. Following the Merry Christmas law does not require the school to take the poster down. Read our full letter.
Jonathan Saenz, Attorney & President of Texas Values, stated:
“Banning historical and religious expressions about Christmas shows hostility to religion that must be stopped. It’s amazing that even a quote from ‘Charlie Brown’s Christmas’ is not even safe for some overzealous or misguided government officials. This current national controversy about Christmas is what the Merry Christmas law was designed to prevent when it was passed in 2013. Had Killeen ISD officials simply followed the law and been tolerant and respectful of the diversity of their staff, this incident would not have happened. With just a few days left before Christmas break, the solution is simple and easy for Killeen ISD – allow the Charlie Brown Christmas poster to go back up, in its entirety.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton made a statement on the incident, “I am proud to have voted for the Merry Christmas law in 2013, when I was a member of the Legislature. We passed that law precisely because of this type of discrimination against people of faith. No school official in Texas can silence a Biblical reference to Christmas. This is an attack on religious liberty and a violation of the First Amendment and state law. I am calling on the school board of the Killeen ISD to immediately reverse their unlawful decision.”
Details on the Merry Christmas law can be found at MerryChristmasTexas.com.
In 2013, the Texas Legislature passed the Merry Christmas law (Texas Education Code 29.920) which guarantees the freedom of children, teachers, parents, staff and school administrators to acknowledge Christmas on school grounds without fear of censorship, persecution, or litigation.