Reps. Bob Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, and Ken Walker, R-Tulsa, are filing a bill for the upcoming session. House Bill 2317 would call for more protections to go into place regarding Christmas and how it is celebrated in schools.
Called the “Merry Christmas” bill, the measure would allow for schools to celebrate Christmas and use religious-based imagery such as nativity scenes alongside other displays such as Christmas trees. It would also allow school faculty and staff to use traditional greetings such as “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah” without fear of reprisal.
“The purpose of this Oklahoma Merry Christmas bill is to put a beacon of light, a safe harbor if you will, in the pages of the statutes so that our children, our parents and our teachers can run to a lighthouse whose light shines boldly from the pages of our state’s law books,” Walker said. “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 there is now a website up so Oklahomans can learn more about the measure.
“We have created a website called MerryChristmasBillOK.com and encourage you to share your own stories, read what the Supreme Court has to say about your religious liberties and follow the progress of this bill,” Walker said. “We also have created ‘Oklahoma Merry Christmas Bill’ on Facebook.”
Walker said he was convinced to file this legislation after speaking with Kathy LaFortune, the wife of former Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune, who said she wants to prevent public schools from being bullied away from celebrating the religious holidays.
“I want our public schools to be able to display Christmas decorations and other significant icons side by side without fear of lawsuits,” LaFortune said. “Teachers should have the freedom to discuss the cultural and historic meanings behind these symbols with our children.”
Cleveland said he wants to make sure the meaning of Christmas is kept intact.
“Christmas is the time that our founding fathers came here to get away from persecution,” Cleveland said. “We have the right to freedom and the right to freedom of speech. Simply because we’re in the school house we do not lose that right.”
The measure will be filed today and considered in the upcoming Legislative session set to begin in February. It mirrors that of Texas’ House Bill 308 which was signed into law in that state in June.
In a related story, Sooner Poll conducted a poll on the subject of Christmas for the Tulsa World. The poll of 401 likely voters was conducted November 1-5 using a random digit-dialing technique that included cellphone and landline telephone numbers. Results were weighted by gender, age and party. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
The results indicate as the newspaper’s headline declared, “Let’s have a Christmas parade, for crying out loud.”
Better than three-quarters of the 400 Tulsans surveyed said they want “Christmas” in the name of the city’s annual downtown holiday parade.
“Christmas is set aside as the birthday for Christ,” Richard Freeman said. “I don’t see any reason to water that down or give it another name.”
Editor’s Note: David Arnett was the original organizer of the Tulsa Christmas Parade at Tulsa Hills Shopping Center in 2011. Arnett has not been involved in subsequent parades.