The halls of the Texas Statehouse were filled with Christmas cheer Thursday as Gov. Rick Perry signed into law a bill that protects Christmas and other holiday celebrations in Texas public schools.
Known as the Merry Christmas Bill, the measure makes it legal to express holiday greetings such as “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah” in public schools without facing legal repercussions. It also protects holiday symbols such as menorahs and Nativity scenes, according to the Associated Press. These symbols can be displayed as long as more than one religion is represented and secular symbols are shown as well.
The bipartisan bill moved briskly through the state House and Senate.
Perry spoke of the importance of religious freedom as he signed the bill into law, surrounded by Santa Claus impersonators ringing sleigh bells. “I realize it’s only June. But it’s a good June and the holidays are coming early this year,” Perry said. “It’s a shame that a bill like this one I’m signing today is even required, but I’m glad that we’re standing up for religious freedom in this state. Religious freedom does not mean freedom from religion.”
The sponsor of the bill, state Rep. Dwayne Bohac, R-Houston, said it was drafted after he found out his first-grade son’s school chose to set up a “holiday tree” in December, citing a worry that calling it a Christmas tree might lead to legal consequences. “We hope that this is a fire that will take off and become laws in the other 49 states,” Bohac said.
The New York Daily News reported the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas plans to observe how the new law will affect state public schools. “We will be monitoring this very closely,” Tom Hargins, director of communications for the ACLU of Texas, told the Daily News. “We hope that school administrators will remain mindful that it is up to parents to introduce and teach their kids about religion, not the public schools.”
Cheerleaders from Kountze High School were present at the bill-signing ceremony wearing “I Cheer for Jesus” T-shirts. The teens were initially banned from displaying signs with Bible verses written on them during football games, but a judge eventually overturned that ruling.
Perry mentioned the cheerleaders as being among those the law had been created to protect, the San Antonio Express-News reported.