Lawmakers in deep-red Oklahoma are lining up behind new legislation that would grant explicit permission for educators to teach students about Christmas and Hanukkah and observe “traditional winter celebrations” on public school property.
Two bills, HB2316 and HB 2317, “permit school districts to display on school property scenes or symbols associated with traditional winter celebrations,” which the co-sponsors of the bill define to mean Christmas and Hanukkah. The language also states that any religious scene must also depict at least one other religious or secular icon.
The author of the two bills explained the rationale behind the legislation:
“The purpose of the Oklahoma Merry Christmas bill is to put a beacon of light, a safe harbor, if you will, in the pages of statutes so that our children … and our parents can run to a lighthouse whose light shines boldly on the pages of Oklahoma’s law books and declares that they have a right to express their core beliefs and celebrate winter traditions without fear of lawsuit, retribution or reprisal,” said Rep. Ken Walker, R-Tulsa, during a Capitol press conference.
After years of waging their phony War on Christmas on the battlefields of Fox News and retail stores, conservatives are opening up a new front: legislative chambers. Earlier this year, Texas passed a similar “Merry Christmas Bill” which sought to preempt potential lawsuits against school districts that insist on using “Merry Christmas” or erecting explicitly Christian-themed decorations.
Federal courts have ruled — repeatedly — that the preferential treatment of a religious holiday on public property is unconstitutional. The Oklahoma bill’s requirement that at least two religions be represented in any holiday display could keep the law within legal boundaries, depending on whether courts think the bill’s “actual purpose is to endorse or disapprove of religion” or that it “conveys a message of endorsement or disapproval.”
Still, Oklahoma is hardly a beacon of religious tolerance. In 2010, voters there passed an amendment to the state’s constitution that prohibited courts in the state from considering Shariah law, only to have it rejected as unconstitutional by a U.S District Court Judge earlier this year.