By Rob Burgess
— In the ever-darkening days at the end of each year — when Christmas songs begin to fill the air — a simple thought never fails to amuse me. It’s the idea of the musicians behind those noises, and the conditions under which the songs were produced.
Christmas music isn’t generally recorded at Christmas. It just can’t be. It wouldn’t work. It has to be ready ahead of time. That has to mean while the band or artist in question is plugging away at, say, “Jingle Bell Rock” inside the recording studio, just outside their front door temperatures could easily be reaching triple digits. I was reminded of this personal joke a few days ago when I read about Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s signing of the so-called “Merry Christmas” bill into law.
“Surrounded by sleigh bell-ringing Santa Claus impersonators, Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday signed a law protecting Christmas and other holiday celebrations in Texas public schools from legal challenges — but also stressed that freedom of religion is not the same thing as freedom from religion,” reported Will Weissert of the Associated Press on Friday.
After I heard about this, I went and read the actual legislation, also known as House Bill 308. It’s short, but dumbfounding reading.
“A school district may educate students about the history of traditional winter celebrations, and allow students and district staff to offer traditional greetings regarding the celebrations, including: ‘Merry Christmas,’ ‘Happy Hanukkah’ and ‘happy holidays,’” reads the bill. “A school district may display on school property scenes or symbols associated with traditional winter celebrations, including a menorah or a Christmas image such as a Nativity scene or Christmas tree, if the display includes a scene or symbol of more than one religion, or one religion and at least one secular scene or symbol.”
Almost as an afterthought, the bill ends with the following terse statement: “A display relating to a traditional winter celebration may not include a message that encourages adherence to a particular religious belief.”
So, if we’re going to teach children the “history of traditional winter celebrations,” does that include pagan roots of the Christmas tree, the sordid earlier incarnations of Santa Claus or that the Bible makes no mention of the date of Jesus’ birth? And what’s this business about forcing more than one religious symbol into the same space? Public schools funded by taxpayers of the Lone Star State shouldn’t be allowed to support religious displays of any kind, let alone multiple ones simultaneously.
If anyone’s worried about children forgetting about Christmas, believe me, as a former teacher myself, I can say with certainty there’s no way they will ever fail to recall the season. If no one else, secular retailers wouldn’t allow it, in any event.
There’s also a real sense of victimhood behind the push for this I don’t understand. In the long history of Christianity, you’d be hard pressed to find a country with a populace friendlier to Jesus’ followers than America. I’d love to hear Perry and those like him go back in time and compare miseries with the early Christians of the late Iron Age. I guarantee they had it worse.
But, no matter. Texas may well be the first of many to enact such statutes.
“We hope other states will follow and pass similar laws of their own — but we need your support to spread the word across the country!” reads the official Merry Christmas Bill website.
Thankfully, we do not live in a theocracy. However, unless vigilance is maintained, that’s not a guarantee for the future.
On Thursday, the high temperature in Austin, Texas, was 96 degrees. That didn’t stop Perry and his supporters from thinking about a holiday that is almost exactly half a year away. Anyone who wishes to uphold the Establishment Clause should take a page from the beleaguered music-maker who is toiling away at “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” instead of hitting the beach right about now. This fight knows no season.
Rob Burgess, Tribune night editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at twitter.com/robaburg.