A very merry Christmas came early this year in Texas — at least for state legislators appealing to their constituents’ neo-conservative belief that religion should be forced upon others.
On Thursday, June 13, Republican Gov. Rick Perry of Texas signed into law the so-called “Merry Christmas Bill,” which eliminates any legal consequences of mentioning Christmas or Hanukkah in public schools or during school functions. It allows Christmas trees, Nativity scenes and Menorahs to be displayed on school property, so long as students are not instructed to value one religion over another.
At first blush, the “Merry Christmas Bill,” co-authored by Rep. Dwayne Bohac and Sen. Robert Nichols, seems rather innocuous. Where’s the harm? After all, English teachers freely mention the names and deeds of deities such as Poseidon and Athena when they teach “The Odyssey,” which has not, to my knowledge, encouraged a single student to convert to ancient Greek polytheism. It’s just as unlikely that seasonal exposure to fake lighted pine trees, rows of candles and other artifacts of Iron Age thinking will lead young people to switch religions or forswear modern science.
Where the offense of this bill lies is not in what Texas lawmakers are willing to give students and faculty — faith, as it were — but in what they’re unwilling to give them: funding. This move casts them as bizzaro versions of the Grinch. Whereas the Grinch wrongfully believes that by stealing the Whos’ possessions, he is also stealing the intangible essence of Christmas, the Texas legislature wrongfully believes that by giving public schools the freedom to practice Christianity and Judaism openly, they are making up for all that they have taken from them.
“I proclaim that Texas schools can now openly celebrate the three Abrahamic religions: Christianity, Judaism… and… uh… I can’t… the third one I can’t… whoops.”
Robbing Peter to Pay Jesus
Right now, the Lone Star State trails nearly all others?in per-student spending. A?competent legislative body seeking to improve its state’s public education system might start by ensuring that each school, from pre-K all the way up through higher learning, has adequate funding. Unfortunately for students and teachers, the Republican-controlled Texas Congress is the exact opposite of competent and, in 2011,?cut $5.4 billion from the education fund.?This action forced districts to lay off teachers, dip into emergency funds and eliminate after-school programs.
But at least students and teachers can now publicize their religious beliefs. Never mind that Jesus said “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.” I guess since he didn’t mention school cafeterias, high school football stadiums and graduation commencement speeches, they are acceptable places to be religious and do religious things.?
Adios, Jefferson and Darwin!
Something else Texas students are denied at the cost of religion is a well-rounded social studies and science curriculum. In 2010, the Texas Board of Education approved radical new changes to its curriculum that play up Christianity while conveniently ignoring anything that is perceived to be un-Christian. The misconception that the United States was founded primarily on Christian principles, for instance, has resulted in the near-removal of Thomas Jefferson from history books. A child of the Enlightenment, our third president and author of the Declaration of Independence committed the unforgivable crime of questioning Jesus’s divinity.
What’s more, in many Texas classrooms, students are being taught pseudo-intellectual, biblical claims that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, humans co-existed with dinosaurs and racial diversity is due to God’s curse on Ham, son of Noah. It comes as no surprise that, among 34 industrialized nations, the United States ranks almost dead last, right before Turkey, in the percentage of citizens who believe in evolution.
This holiday season, many children will no doubt rejoice in their freedom to proclaim “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah” without the fear of the Christmas police storming their schools with riot gear. But when they get to be young adults and realize how much has been taken from them in the name of religion, they might wonder: Was it asking too much to receive a twenty-first century education for Christmas?
Edited and published by CB