It was Christmas in February for members of an Oklahoma House committee Monday.
The House Common Education Committee approved by a 15-1 vote legislation saying that public school students, teachers and other staff members can greet each other with such traditional phrases as “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Hanukkah” and “happy holidays.” The committee passed the measure despite federal court rulings and U.S. Department of Education guidelines that say public schools already have the right to erect holiday displays with religious themes under certain circumstances and that students and teachers can greet each other with “Merry Christmas.”
The so-called “Merry Christmas Bill” also says that Oklahoma school districts can teach students about the history of the traditional celebrations.
It also says school districts can put up displays on school property associated with the winter celebrations — including a menorah, a nativity scene or a Christmas tree.
The measure's author, Rep. Ken Walker, R-Tulsa, said it will protect Oklahoma school districts from lawsuits over religious-based holiday displays, although Walker acknowledged he is not aware of any such lawsuit filed in the state.
“This is an offensive measure which basically says that we won't do this in Oklahoma,” said Walker, who held up a festive red-and-white holiday stocking cap as he fielded questions from committee members.
“It will declare that we have a right to express our core beliefs and celebrate winter traditions without fear of lawsuit, retribution or reprisal,” Walker said.
The bill says public schools can display scenes or symbols associated with traditional winter celebrations on school property providing the display includes a scene or symbol of more than one religion or one religion and at least one secular scene or symbol.