Bill Puts The “Merry” Back In Christmas…
The “Ho, Ho, Ho” In Santa, and the “Happy” In Hanukkah and The Holidays
NEW JERSEY – Citing the First Amendment’s right to free speech and the recent controversies in Bordentown and other municipalities, Assemblyman Ron Dancer has introduced legislation that will allow school districts to display holiday symbols on school property, include musical selections with religious themes at holiday programs and teach students about traditional winter celebrations.
“The holiday season has become a battleground in regards to religious and secular celebrations on public property with the fighting ultimately ending in the courtroom. It’s time to put such issues to rest,” said Dancer, R-Ocean, Burlington, Middlesex and Monmouth. “This legislation is all inclusive. It protects everyone’s First Amendment right to free speech without promoting adherence to a particular religious belief.”
The bill, A-4481, allows a school district to 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. The display must include a scene or symbol of more than one religion or one religion and at least one secular scene or symbol.
It also permits a school district to include musical selections with religious themes at winter or holiday programs if the program includes musical selections of more than one religion or one religion and music secular in nature. It also provides school districts with the option of educating students about the history of traditional winter celebrations and allows students, faculty and other staff to offer traditional greetings including, but not limited to “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Hanukkah,” and “Happy Holidays.”
“For Christians, Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus. For others it’s a fun time associated with Santa and Rudolph. For those of the Jewish faith, Hanukkah is a time to celebrate two miracles – a great military victory and a miraculous supply of oil for the Temple,” explained Dancer. “Regardless of your beliefs or the holiday you celebrate, schools should be allowed to observe nationally-recognized holidays without the fear of litigation.”
Dancer noted that federal courts that considered the issue in particular contexts have held that public schools may permissibly include seasonal religious expression in holiday displays and programs (Clever v. Cherry Hill Township Board of Education D.N.J. 1993 and Sechler v. State College Area School District M.D. Pa. 2000).
“Most recently, the Bordentown school district banned three religious songs from its elementary winter program, but citing ‘…additional legal considerations,’ reversed the decision and is now allowing the songs,” he said. “The case captured the interest of many throughout the U.S. as it received national media coverage.”