Bill would allow Christmas to be celebrated in public schools

Deck the public school halls with boughs of holly ... and a menorah. And a snowman or a reindeer.

State Rep. Alan Seabaugh said Thursday that he plans to follow Texas’ lead by introducing legislation that will give public schools a degree of comfort and protection in displaying nativity scenes and hosting Christmas pageants.

Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, calls it the three-reindeer rule.

Basically, he said, schools can have a nativity scene representing the birth of Jesus as long as they put a menorah and a couple of reindeer or snowmen in it. The idea is to represent more than one religion as well as a secular symbol.

“I want people to know it’s perfectly OK to say ‘Merry Christmas’ and have a Christmas pageant or a Christmas dance,” Seabaugh said. “There’s a huge degree of misunderstanding.”

The legislation would be debated in the regular session that starts in March. Seabaugh wants the bill to go through the education committees. He said it is education related since he is not expanding his focus to the courthouse or city hall. The bill would be debated at the State Capitol, which currently is decked out with wreaths, Christmas trees and twinkling lights for the holiday season.

In neighboring Texas, Republican state Rep. Dwayne Bohac filed legislation after his then-first-grade son, Reagan, mentioned decorating a holiday tree with holiday ornaments at school. In the Bohac household, it’s a Christmas tree — not a holiday tree — so the different characterization struck the representative as odd. School administrators explained they feared litigation over the word “Christmas.”

Bohac’s legislation — now state law in Texas — spells out that schools can adhere to a rule of two religious symbols and a secular symbol. In other words, Christmas is fine as long as Hanukkah and Santa Claus also get attention. He represents neighborhoods and communities in the western part of Houston.

Conservatives applaud the law as a return to simpler times when a Christmas pageant was commonplace in public schools. Critics argue it’s a clever way to sneak in Christianity to the public schools, which courts have said should not favor one religion over another.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed the bill into law last summer with a number of cheerleaders wearing “I cheer for Jesus” T-shirts on hand. Several Santa Clauses also were in the room. From the bill signing, Perry jetted to a faith and freedom conference in Washington, D.C.

Two bills have been filed in Oklahoma to spread the Merry Christmas spirit to that state. New Jersey, Mississippi, Alabama and Indiana also are reportedly looking at the law.

Seabaugh, who is an attorney, said a law is necessary to prevent schools from going overboard and banning the colors of red and green during the month of December. He said his father-in-law, a School Board president, frequently calls him with questions about what can and cannot be displayed in public schools. Seabaugh said school officials are fearful because they get sued for allegedly stepping over the line.

“Someone will say it (the legislation) is frivolous. But it’s not. School boards spend a lot of money defending these lawsuits,” he said.

Bohac, who named his son after President Ronald Reagan, said people are too quick to characterize the issue as a Republican one. He said it is an American issue.

“We had basically this censorship of Christmas and Hanukkah, which just kind of steals the joy,” Bohac said.