For those of you worried that government can't be proactive, good news out of Texas. On Monday, the state's legislature sent Governor Perry its "Merry Christmas" bill, which would authorize schools to refer to the holiday in non-generic terms. Perry is expected to sign it. The bill was introduced shortly before Christmas last year by Rep. Dwayne Bohac. Bohac describes his motivation for the legislation at a site created to advocate for the measure, MerryChristmasBill.com. This bill originated when I picked up my first grade son from school last year and asked him how his day went. He told me that his class had decorated their holiday tree with holiday ornaments. When I asked what a holiday tree was, he told me it was the same as a Christmas tree. It's isn't just Bohan. The site also features a number of stories apparently from regular citizens, all of which center around the exclusion of Christmas (but no other holidays) from school celebrations. In Bohan's case, he asked school officials why they didn't use the word. The officials told him that they were "fearful of litigation." House Bill 308 was meant to assuage those anecdotal concerns. The legislation is brief. There are four elements. One, schools may educate students about the history of traditional winter celebrations. Two, students and teachers can offer "traditional greetings," like "Merry Christmas," "Happy Hanukkah," and the dreaded "Happy holidays." Three, schools can put up displays if they either include multiple religions or a religion and some sort of "secular scene or symbol." Four, the display can't include a message "that encourages adherence" to a religious belief. According to the Fox News report on the bill, that third point includes nativity scenes. During debate on the measure, the Texas House held a hearing in its Public Education Committee. The case for the bill was presented by a group called Texas Values, which advocates for issues like religious freedom and against domestic partnerships. (Today the group is holding a rally to protest the Boy Scouts proposal to allow openly gay boys to participate.) The Huffington Post reports that the bill will soon become law. Asked for comment on whether the governor would sign the bill, Perry spokesman Josh Havens told The Huffington Post, "This bill is about the freedom of religion, not freedom from religion, and Gov. Perry supports it." A recent Gallup survey indicated that at least three-quarters of Texans are some denomination of Christian. Despite the timidity of school officials, that figure has largely remained consistent over the past several years.
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