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Lauryn Seering

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Statement by Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker / Co-Presidents Freedom From Religion Foundation

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Grandstanding pols in Texas last week passed the “Merry Christmas” bill, supposedly to ensure that public school students and teachers can say “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah” unimpeded.

As MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow put it, “Thanks to Governor Perry, it’s not illegal to say Merry Christmas. Was it ever illegal to say Merry Christmas in Texas? You know, you never can be too careful, but saying Merry Christmas is now doubly, triply, merrily, Rick Perryily protected in Texas.” 

“Holiday” seems to be a dirty word to the Christian Right. A propagandistic website devoted to seeding similar bills in other states reflects this scorn by having a child ask, “Daddy, why do we have a Christmas tree at home and a holiday tree at school?” Yet, inexplicably, the new law also explicitly protects the right to say that greeting most reviled by Bill O’Reilly: “Happy holidays.”

Ha-ha, just another stupid bill out of Texas, right? The “Merry Christmas” greeting is garnering the headlines, but the law’s real purpose is to put nativity scenes into public schools. At his June 13 press conference, Perry said: “I'm proud we are standing up for religious freedom in our state. Freedom of religion doesn't mean freedom from religion.” Perry insisted “people of faith” are “under attack.” In attendance were several Kountze cheerleaders wearing red “I cheer for Christ” T-shirts. They recently sued for the right to hold up bible banners for football players to run through at school games, a case that began, by the way, with a letter of complaint by FFRF.

Also speaking was bill sponsor Rep. Dwayne Bohac. Who could argue with his remark: “This is political correctness run amok and our brains have completely fallen out”? State Senator Robert Nichols, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, represents both Kountze and Henderson County. Although not naming FFRF, Nichols referred to FFRF’s complaint two years ago — which created a firestorm — over a huge nativity scene dominating one corner of the Henderson County courthouse.

The law they all lauded encourages school districts to display religious symbols, including nativity scenes, on school property — providing either a secular symbol is next to it or two religious symbols are erected together. If a school district puts up Frosty the Snowman, it can then erect a crèche depicting the supposed miraculous birth of the Christian savior. Putting a menorah next to a nativity scene in a public school setting to “secularize” religious displays is like saying two wrongs make a right.

Court precedent on manger scenes and menorahs is tortured. You can turn a nativity display on government property “secular” simply by planting two reindeer next to it. But such precedent emphatically does not apply to public schools where young and impressionable students are a captive audience.

After the press conference, Perry left to travel to Ralph Reed’s Faith & Freedom Coalition conference in Washington over the weekend. Isn’t it time, Governor, as Dan’s song about Perry puts it, to: “Get Off Your Knees and Get to Work”? 

Some 150 members of Congress today voted in favor of allowing nonreligious military chaplains to serve atheists and agnostics in the armed forces.

Although that wasn’t enough for an amendment to succeed, it means a lot to American freethinkers.

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) offered the amendment on the House floor.

Last week, U.S. Rep. Robert E. Andrews (D-NJ) tried to add a similar amendment to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act in committee.

You may recall the breathtakingly bigoted remarks Andrews’ amendment inspired by some members of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee. See FFRF press release.

Kudos also to Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., who defended atheists and humanists at that committee meeting: "To say that an atheist or a humanist doesn't believe anything is just ignorant. They have very, very developed beliefs and value systems, and there are many, many of them serving in the military, including Pat Tillman. The response to the gentleman's amendment makes me feel all the more the necessity of it. Basically, if you are an atheist or agnostic in the military, the military's response is, 'We've got nothing for you.. There's no hope for you.' They believe in a system of values, and that system of values is worth as much to them as Christianity is to us."

Click here to see the list of “ayes” — If a supporter of equality for “foxhole atheists” truly represented you, please be sure to thank him or her.

(Note: there were 150 Democrats who voted yes, 44 Democrats who voted no and 230 Republicans who voted no.)

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national state/church watchdog, has heard from many of its Michigan members concerned over the mischief-making intent of two state Senate bills discussed in a Committee on Education hearing Wednesday. Although ostensibly relating to history instruction and religion in school curriculum, the bills contain wording that has been used in several other states as a scheme to post the Ten Commandments and religious displays.

Representatives for the Michigan Association of Secondary Schools Principals and the Association of Public School Academies spoke in opposition to Senate Bill 423, which in part says school districts may post documents and objects “of historical significance in forming or influencing the United States or its legal governmental system” and explicitly allows for “documents that contain words associated with religion.”

“The Ten Commandments played no role whatsoever in the founding of the United States of America, predicated as our nation is on a godless Constitution and secular rule of law. But ignorant proselytizers attempt to use ‘historic’ displays as a means to inject religion into government buildings and now our schools. Public schools exist to educate, not to indoctrinate,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president, composed of 19,000 nonreligious members, including more than 500 in Michigan.

FFRF is currently suing two school districts in Pennsylvania that have planted large monuments of the Ten Commandments in front of schools. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled display of Ten Commandments in public schools is unconstitutional, noting "The pre-eminent purpose" for doing so "is plainly religious in nature."

Senator Patrick Colbeck, sponsor of SB 423 is also sponsoring SB 120, which is modeled after legislation sponsored by Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, which was passed in 2005 when she was in the Minnesota Senate. It says that school districts “shall not censor or restrain instruction in American history or heritage or Michigan state history or heritage based on religious references in original source documents, writings, speeches, proclamations, or records.” FFRF is not aware of any published reports of any such censorship.

“These bills appear to give the green light to religious and revisionist instruction in public schools,” Gaylor added. “Michigan’s public schools will be subject to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment — no matter what some legislators seek to authorize.”

SB 423 includes pages and pages of onerous instructions on what public schools must teach about the Constitution and U.S. history. While FFRF heartily endorses general civics lessons and education on state and federal constitutional principles, Gaylor says this bill appears to have a political agenda and crosses the line into micromanaging.

The Christian Post
By Michael Gryboski

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