Rob Burgess

Rob Burgess Tribune night editor

With the Big Day only a week away and this coming Saturday the first day of winter, the time felt right for a follow-up to my June 19 column, “War on Christmas ... summer edition.” The original piece was a response to Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s June 13 signing of House Bill 308, the so-called “Merry Christmas” bill.

“[The law protects] Christmas and other holiday celebrations in Texas public schools from legal challenges,” according to The Associated Press. (If you don’t see why this is problematic, see the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.)

So, what exactly has changed in the last six months? A lot, as it turns out. For starters, it’s being enforced just as I feared it would be. The bill’s co-author, state Rep. Pat Fallo, R-Frisco, earlier this month charged the Gene and Ruby Nichols Elementary School in his hometown with violating the law.

“[An angry] parent forwarded [Fallon] an email sent out by the organizer of the winter party, and in it, there were three rules listed for the party: 1. No reference to Christmas or any other religious holiday. 2. No red, green or Christmas trees. 3. Nothing that will stain the carpet,” reported WDFW’s Brandon Todd Dec. 4.

The administration caved almost immediately. “The school was unaware of this and it was not an official [Parent Teacher Association] correspondence either,” read the Frisco Independent School District’s official email response to WDFW. “There have never been any limitations on what students wear, what they bring to share with their classmates on party days ... what greetings people exchange with each other.”

As a former teacher, I can tell you exactly what the poor soul who authored the initial correspondence had in mind. The third entry in the list is the giveaway: “Nothing that will stain the carpet.” That same mindset of clean efficiency informed the first two regulations. No disrespect to Jesus intended, I’m sure. They were most likely just trying to get through the day without stepping on the toes of the school’s families who don’t happen to be Christians who celebrate Christmas. How disappointing for everyone they were threatened with this new theocratic code — the uproar surrounding the application of which was many times more disruptive.

Half a year ago, the Lone Star State was the first, and at the time only, province to enact such a statute. I predicted then this idea would spread. I am sad to report I was right.

“On [Dec. 9, Oklahoma] State Representatives filed House Bill 2317, or the ‘Merry Christmas’ bill,” reported KWTV’s Justin Dougherty the same day. “The bill calls for more protections for Christmas and how it’s celebrated in schools, such as religion based greetings and Nativity scenes. Session does not begin until February, but legislators are getting into the holiday spirit right now.”

And the Sooner State isn’t alone in following its neighbor to the south’s lead. “Christmas and Hanukkah should be celebrated freely at public schools in Louisiana without fear of punishment, according to a state lawmaker … who plans to file legislation to ensure citizens understand their rights during the winter holidays,” reported The Times-Picayune’s Lauren McGaughey Thursday. “State Rep. Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport) said Thursday he will file a so-called ‘Merry Christmas’ bill during the 2014 legislative session that begins in early March.”

There is a wonderful Christmas light display down the road from where I live. My wife, Ash, and I love driving through it every December. The tallest structure in the meticulously detailed presentation is a gigantic white cross. Many other Christian symbols are prominently featured. It is free. It is on private — not government — land. There is no requirement to participate. You have to want to experience it. It costs nothing more than time and gas money.

Now, were I compelled under penalty of law to visit, I can assure you I wouldn’t find it nearly as charming. I might actually come to resent it. Do you see the difference?

Rob Burgess, Tribune night editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577, via email at rob.burgess@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at www.twitter.com/robaburg.

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