(Photo: Reuters/Bob Strong)
Indiana's Senate unanimously passed a bill last week that would protect the celebration of Christmas in the state's public schools, allowing students to decorate Christmas trees and share traditional holiday greetings such as "Merry Christmas" with their pupils.
Senate Bill 326, if passed into law, would specifically allow teachers and students to say traditional seasonal greetings such as "Merry Christmas," "Happy Hanukkah," and "Happy Holidays" while at school. Additionally, it would allow classrooms to display "symbols associated with traditional winter celebrations, including a menorah, Christmas tree, Nativity scene or other religious symbols associated with traditional winter celebrations," as long as more than one religion is represented or a secular symbol accompanies a religious one.
The state senate passed the bill unanimously last week, with the legislation's co-author, Sen. Jim Smith, saying the purpose of the bill was to avoid the lawsuits that have taken place in other states regarding religious expression during the holiday season. "Christmas is under attack," Smith said in reference to the bill, according to The Associated Press. "That's just crazy that we even have to move a bill like that, but I think it's very well needed in the state and in every state."
When the bill passed its committee hearing at the Statehouse in late January, Smith told The Indianapolis Star that having Christmas removed from public school classrooms would be a disservice to the youth. "Christmas has been extinguished from our classrooms, and it's to the detriment of our children."
Indiana's recent legislation was introduced after Texas passed a "Merry Christmas Law" last June, protecting teachers and students from reprimand should they celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or other holidays in the classroom. State Rep. Pat Fallon, who co-authored the bill, said he feels he has a responsibility to protect children and their right to celebrate Christmas. "I feel like my calling in life is to protect the students, parents and teachers," Fallon told FoxNews.com in December. "They have a constitutional right to express themselves. They have freedom of religion."
Some, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have criticized such "Merry Christmas" bills that are currently pending in eight state legislatures, including Indiana. In reference to the Texas bill, Victor Cornell of the ACLU previously said that the legislation goes too far, arguing that religious practice cannot be endorsed by schools unless it carries a "secular instructional purpose."
Indiana's Senate Bill 326 now moves to the House for approval.