Spring may be upon us, but as flowers bloom and dreams of summertime fun abound, a South Carolina House bill is looking months ahead to address who can say "Merry Christmas" in public schools as well as whether nativity scenes and religious symbols should be allowed.
House Bill 4458 could impact how and what public school children are taught about traditional -- and nontraditional -- holidays, alike. It's parameters are simple, but they haven't come without controversy.
First, the proposed bill argues that students can be educated about certain holidays like Christmas. And second, it allows staff members to utter specific holiday greetings.
"A school district may educate students about the history, customs, and symbols of traditional winter celebrations," the text reads. "In conjunction with providing this education, the district also may allow students and district staff to offer traditional greetings regarding the celebrations including, but not limited to: (1) Happy Hanukkah; (2) Happy Holidays; and (3) Merry Christmas."
As for holiday displays, schools can have them, but they must include more than one religious tradition or a secular scene to balance them out. And the symbols must be equal in number.
None of these messages, though, will be permitted to encourage allegiance to any specific faith, according to the text of the bill. The proposal allows for all winter holidays to be acknowledged, not only those that are religious in nature, as WECT-TV reported.
State Rep. Bill Sandifer, a Republican, sponsored the bill, because he believes it will protect free speech and also shield schools from lawsuits surrounding religious displays during the holiday season.
"Defending a lawsuit is an expensive proposition. What I am trying to do is to create an environment in which a Christian display can be made," he told South Carolina newspaper the Island Packet. "It does not have to be [Christian] but it can only be displayed if there is another type of a display, whether it be an agnostic display, a pagan display, a Jewish display or whatever it might be. So that they each have equal opportunity."
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A representative for the American Civil Liberties Union, though, said that the law is potentially problematic.
"A display should be more inclusive than two things," state director Victoria Middleton told the Island Packet. "It raises a lot of questions about it could be implemented without being potentially unconstitutional or specifically someone who is not of that faith. Public schools should be educating students, not proselytizing."
House Bill 4458 passed the House's education committee last week and is now headed to the floor. There is no indication whether it will pass.
The bill comes amid ongoing debate over the First Amendment in public schools. TheBlaze highlighted a report Monday that claims public schools actually have more legal leverage to cover religious subjects in instruction than critics might believe.
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