SE Texas Record

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Public schools’ usage of ‘Merry Christmas’ still ultimately a matter for the courts

By David Yates | Jan 5, 2015

In 2013, Texas legislatures passed a bill making the iconic greeting “merry Christmas” on school grounds lawful, giving districts the green light to throw caution to political correctness this past Christmas.

However, whether schools can ever truly make the switch from “Happy Holidays” remains an issue for the courts, says one Texas political science professor.

State Rep. Dwayne Bohac, R-Houston, filed House Bill 308, commonly referred to as the “Merry Christmas Bill,” to protect the right to acknowledge traditional winter holidays, like Christmas and Hanukkah, on school grounds.

The motivating factor behind the law was to allow students, parents, teachers and administrators the freedom to acknowledge Christmas without fear of litigation.

However, Matthew Wilson, professor of political science at Southern Methodist University, says the bill’s primary purpose was to make a statement.

“It’s the very definition of symbolic politics,” said Wilson. “The use of ‘merry Christmas’ in schools will be settled by the courts, not the legislature.”

Meaning, if any lawsuits pop up as a result of a school district daring to tell its students “merry Christmas” last month, a Supreme Court ruling on the matter would ultimately supersede Texas’ law.

“I don’t think there would be a constitutional problem with school districts sending a memo wishing students a merry Christmas,” said Wilson, adding, however, that while the bill allows districts the use of merry Christmas, it doesn’t require it.

Case in point, the Port Arthur Independent School District, which opted to stick with the generic use of “happy holidays” in 2014.

The PAISD student population is made of many religions and ethnicities.

And according to district spokeswoman Kristyn Hunt, PAISD stuck with the use of “happy holidays” to “make sure all religions were respected.”

Whether symbolic or a step toward restoring Christmas, Texas’ unique law has been a topic for national media debate.

But whether public school districts start calling ‘holiday trees’ ‘Christmas trees’ again, may depend on the number of lawsuits that follow in the bill’s wake and the opinions of high court justices that come as a result.

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