War on Christmas: The Texas Front

It’s the time of year to gather around the table for Christmas, have some tamales and argue with your family over current events. If you aren’t talking about Trump you might take sides on the “War on Christmas.” Like most holiday gifts, the battlefields of this war aren’t exactly big events. But it’s the principle of the thing! For one side, it’s the blurred lines between religion and politics towards a theocracy. For the other, it’s refuting the important contributions of Christian thoughts and beliefs that have contributed to the shining city on the hill. Either way, it’s not going away and here are some highlights from this winter.

Dan Patrick brings Christmas to the Senate:

The House has done it for years. Every December workers haul a massive tree to the middle of the floor. It becomes a very popular selfie spot. Our new Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, as a proud and devout Christian – and also avid selfie taker – announced that the 70 year embargo on Senate Christmas trees would end now he’s in charge. So this year, a 24 feet tall tree from Elves Christmas Tree Farm in Denison stands in the upper chamber. Senators provided ornaments.

Then Senator Dan Patrick asked two years ago why there wasn’t a Christmas Tree tradition in the Senate. “No one seemed to have the answer. To the casual observer, it simply looked as though the Texas Senate had chosen not to celebrate Christmas with the centuries old tradition of an evergreen tree topped with an angle. It is not the image I want to portray as Lt. Governor and I believe the Senators agree,” Patrick said in a release.

Here’s the video: http://bit.ly/1O02El4.

For some background, Senator Patrick co-authored the “Merry Christmas Bill” with Sen. Robert Nichols. Then, and now, he wants to stop the war on Christmas and is proud school districts can use the greetings, “Merry Christmas”, “Happy Hanukkah” and “Happy Holidays”. They can also display Nativity scenes and Christmas trees.

Police on lunch breaks:

It began when a Beaumont police officer was called into his superior’s office and told to cancel a planned bible study session during lunch break. The conservative world in Jefferson County and around Texas was aghast. The Houston Chronicle reported City Manager Kyle Hayes as saying, “City buildings are for public purposes and to conduct city business…therefore, city policy prohibits all non-business activities so that we treat everyone the same.”

Reporters received a press release from the Lt. Governor’s office. “This is an infringement on their First Amendment Right to free exercise of religion guaranteed by the United States Constitution,” it read, “Religious liberty is the underpinning of our nation and constitution. Actions like this are why I have asked the Senate State Affairs Committee to study and make recommendations on how the State of Texas should work to affirm the religious liberty protections of all Texans.”

Reporters got an email. I can imagine the city manager got a lot more.

A battle in Orange: 

Just a few miles away from Beaumont, Orange County officials were huddling in executive session. They wondered what to do with their Nativity scene outside Orange City Hall. An atheist group wanted to place a sign wishing every religion happy holidays right next to the Nativity scene. They could let both of them stand together. But they moved the nativity to private property. A Christmas controversy was afoot.

Attorney General Ken Paxton announced he would gladly use state dollars to fight a would-be lawsuit. Lt. Governor Patrick stated he would personally donate to the legal defense fund.

Governor Abbott released a statement, “I strongly encourage the City of Orange to stand up to the demands of a select few who wish to see God thrown out of the public square.”

“It listed several different holidays including Christmas. It says regardless of what holiday you’re celebrating, the Orange County Atheists would like to wish you a happy holidays,” said Josh Hammers of the Orange County Atheists, as told to ABC 13 in Orange.

Instead of having both the scene and the sign, they have none.

A “mocking” display:

Word spread quickly throughout the capitol. Someone allowed a nativity scene to be displayed in the basement rotunda. Except instead of baby Jesus, Joseph, Mary, etc, it was three founding fathers and the Statue of Liberty looking on the Bill of Rights in the place of baby Jesus.  The sign next to the display is titled “Happy Winter Solstice,” followed by the text: “All this Season of the Winter Solstice, we honor reason and the Bill of Rights (Adopted December 15, 1791).”

“Keep State & Church Separate,” was also posted on the sign. The sign is sponsored by Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, but not endorsed by the state.

“We indicated the educational purpose of our display in our initial application with the State Preservation Board,” explained Sam Grover, a staff attorney with Freedom From Religion Foundation. “We think that the display is educational in the sense that it teaches people about the Winter Solstice, it teaches people that there are other religions and non-religions out there in addition to Christianity. It also teaches about the Bill of Rights and that it was enacted on Dec. 15, 1791.”

This was not to stand.

Governor Abbott sent a letter to the State Preservation Board, the people in charge of these types of things in the capitol. “The exhibit promotes ignorance and falsehood insofar as it suggests that George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson worshiped (or would worship) the bill of rights in the place of Jesus,” Gov. Abbott said in his letter. He called the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s display “juvenile” and “tasteless sarcasm.”

In a release from Lt. Governor Patrick he said, “Displays such as this must meet certain state requirements that promote a ‘public purpose.’ This display clearly does not.”

The display was quickly removed. Joe Deshotel from the Burnt Orange Report had harsh words in his blog post.

“Despite multiple Christmas trees and a nativity scene already on display on Capitol grounds, and the fact that the group went through all of the proper channels to have the display approved, the Governor used his heavy hand to have it removed,” it read, “The request came from the Freedom From Religion Foundation and they brilliantly exposed the Governor for his hostility to any separation of church and state, his Christian supremacy, and his feigned support of religious liberty at large.”

Senator Ted Cruz during this time of year: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3hB3iOQKjY

The Culture Wars are still alive and well.

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