(Photo: Reuters / Lee Celano)
Texas' "Merry Christmas Bill," which is intended to defend free speech on the issue of "traditional holidays," reached Governor Rick Perry's desk on Wednesday, and he is expected to sign it despite critics saying that the bill violates the separation between church and state.
The bill would permit officials like teachers in public schools to say "Merry Christmas" and put up religious symbols, so long as they do not constitute a state preference for one particular religion.
Russell Glasser, co-host of the Austin public-access TV show "The Atheist Experience," in an interview with www.rawstory.com, contends the bill is an offensive tactic by Christians. "They use this as an excuse all the time to pass laws that basically codify Christianity and make sure that everybody hears about it as often as possible," he said.
"It's not about freedom of expression," he argued, "because kids can go around and wish each other 'Merry Christmas' all they want." Instead, this issue centers on "the separation of church and state," he asserts.
But State Representative Dwayne Bohac (R, 138), the bill's original sponsor, told The Christian Post regarding Glassner's statement, "I think that's a very stilted overreaction."
"The bill received the full support of every Democrat and every Republican in the Senate," and a very large majority in the house.
"It's freedom of speech," he explained, "and it's a religious liberty issue as well."
The "Merry Christmas Bill," complete with its own website, www.merrychristmasbill.com, passed the Texas State House of Representatives on May 8 and the State Senate last Friday. The bill is intended "to protect school districts from frivolous lawsuits and teachers and administrators from punishment for calling a Christmas tree a Christmas tree," Bohac explained.
"This politically correct culture is absurd and it's absurd that we need this bill." Nevertheless, he admitted that "it is much needed in order to bring common sense."
Dave Muscato, public relations director at American Atheists, defined what his group believes are acceptable and unacceptable expressions of religion. "If the school is officially promoting it, that's unacceptable," he told CP. "If a student or teacher wants to promote it privately there's no problem."
Nevertheless, Muscato feared that the passage of this bill would be seen as a public victory for religion over what he calls equality. "In practice this will probably play out as Christian administrators putting up Christmas trees and nativity scenes at taxpayer expense in public schools with the result of pressuring children into viewing Christianity as an officially sponsored and endorsed practice," he said.
Seeing no "legitimate secular purpose for this" bill, he opposed it because it might imply "government endorsement and unnecessarily entangles government and religion."
Despite the atheists' concerns, Rep. Bohac defended the "Merry Christmas Bill," saying "it's permissive – it doesn't mandate anything."
Texas Governor Rick Perry told The Christian Post through his spokesperson Josh Havens, "Texas children should not be shielded from religious expression, nor be exposed solely to secularism in our schools."
"This is a bill that affirms the constitutional notion of freedom of religion – not freedom from religion – and I am happy to support this bill with my signature"