Monday, December 9, 2013

'Tis The Season In Texas

The 2013 holiday season is upon us. In Texas, this year, we're more free to say "Merry Christmas" in public places.

The 83rd Legislature passed HB 308 earlier this year, and Governor Rick Perry signed it into law on Flag Day (June 14th).  Having received an overwhelming majority in both houses of the legislature, the law went into effect immediately.

The law adds Section 29.920 to Sub-chapter Z, Chapter 29, Texas Education Code:

SECTION 1.  Subchapter Z, Chapter 29, Education Code, is amended by adding Section 29.920 to read as follows:

Sec. 29.920.  WINTER CELEBRATIONS. (a) 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: 
             (1)  "Merry Christmas"; 
             (2)  "Happy Hanukkah"; and 
             (3)  "happy holidays."
       (b)  Except as provided by Subsection (c), 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: 
             (1)  more than one religion; or 
             (2)  one religion and at least one secular scene or symbol.
       (c)  A display relating to a traditional winter celebration may not include a message that encourages adherence to a particular religious belief.

SECTION 2.  This Act applies beginning with the 2013-2014 school year.
Some may attempt to claim this new law violates the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution. In reality, it does the exact opposite. This law supports the very foundational premise behind the 1st Amendment's religion clauses.

First, this law does not institute, direct, create, or otherwise proclaim any specific religion of religious sect as a state religion.

Second, it enables the free practice of religion in public schools within Texas. It does not prohibit atheism (the religion of no gods). It does not prohibit Christianity, nor does it mandate it. It neither promotes or denies the practice of Islam. It does not deny Jews the practice of their faith, nor does it place Judaism above any other faith.

The law is also worded in such a way that it allows other faiths their freedoms of religious expression. Druids and Asatru pagans may celebrate Yule, and exchange such tidings without prejudice.

What this law does is prohibit schools from suspending your kids for saying "Merry Christmas" or "Blessed Yuletide". Furthermore, it allows for Christmas and Yule trees in schools. In fact, the trees, if decorated properly, automatically adhere to the rules.

A decorated tree with lights and garlands are part of the Jul (Yule) celebrations of old, pre-Christian times in many Indo-European cultures. Many on the Isle of Albion (modern day England) still wassail the trees. The practice, though now Christianized, is an old pagan practice to "heal" the "sleeping" trees. During the spring, trees grow leaves and many adorn themselves with flowers. Those flowers turn to summer fruits. The leaves then change colors in autumn. So, come winter, humans decorate the trees with lights and colors.

Christianity uses the symbols to resemble the rebirth Jesus. The evergreens symbolize the everlasting life he promises. That same symbol of everlasting life is also in the celebration of Yule.

A school may also place a nativity scene near the trees. That meets the respect and celebration of multiple religious observances. Add in Santa, and you have a quasi-secular representation for a winter celebration.

The allowances for religious practices continue from there. Do atheists need a symbol of "no gods"? That's easy, point to a blank wall or a basket full of nothing but air.

In his latest column, Kurt Schlicter addresses common courtesy as it applies to religious "tolerance". Tolerance is in quotes because, simply, those who promote religious liberty love when those of faiths different from their own are also free to express those beliefs, even if we don't share them. For example, I love Christmas stories and songs. I'm not a Christian. I still wish my Christian friends "Merry Christmas", and mean it deeply in my heart. Their faith may be different than mine, but our values and morals are much the same. Tolerance requires you to put up with something you oppose.

Kurt's column also addresses those who scream for "tolerance" yet exhibit intolerance of any religious exercise, especially those in public areas such as government schools. They want religion banned. That is intolerance. They disagree with religions but refuse to tolerate people of various faiths who wish to exercise their constitutionally protected right to do so.

To my Christian friends, Merry Christmas! You will likely hear me repeat it several times.

To my Druid and Asatru friends, particularly those of the Norse pantheons, Blessed Yultetide. My your fire burn all 12 days and warm your hearth, heart and home until the sun returns to warm our days.

To my Jewish friends, a belated Happy Hanukkah.

And to all others not named, health, happiness, and blessings unto you and your family, whatever faith you follow.

To atheists, have a nice day.