Merry Christmas will be a joyful season this year after Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill protecting the holiday celebrations in public schools from legal challenges, stressed freedom of religion is different than freedom from religion.
It was a serious tone for an otherwise fun bill-signing and should bolster the governor’s Christian conservative credentials before he travels to Washington for the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority” conference with the likes of tea party darlings and U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Kentucky’s Rand Paul and fellow Texan Ted Cruz.
Dubbed the “Merry Christmas bill,” the bipartisan measure sailed through the state House and Senate to reach Perry’s desk.
It removes legal risks of saying, “Merry Christmas” in schools while also protecting traditional holiday symbols, such as a menorah or nativity scene, as long as more than one religion and a secular symbol are also reflected.
“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.”
During the last Sunday of the legislative session on May 26, Rep. Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat, gave the Texas House’s daily prayer.
“We are fortunate to live in a country where we have the freedom to exercise the religion of our choosing while also being free from having any religion imposed upon us,” said Howard, herself a Unitarian Universalist.
Her words prompted some conservative lawmakers to hold their own, separate prayer session moments later.
Perry did not mention Howard or her prayer, but invited to the signing ceremony cheerleaders from Kountze High School in East Texas. They were briefly barred by their school district from displaying banners with bible verses at football games. Perry decried the ban and a judge eventually ruled it violated students’ free speech rights.
The governor said the law was for believers such as the Kountze cheerleaders, who wore red “I cheer for Christ” T-shirts.
The Faith & Freedom Coalition is a conservative, grass-roots advocacy group whose conference runs through the weekend. Perry heads to Washington on Friday.