Nearly 100 people and four news outlets — including Austin’s Fox News affiliate — crammed into Killeen Independent School District’s board room Tuesday to weigh in on the fate of a religious Christmas poster.
After more than an hour of discussion, the board decided, in a 6 to 1 vote, to uphold the district’s decision to remove the “Charlie Brown Christmas” decorations Dedra Shannon put up on her door at Patterson Middle School in Killeen.
While some board members expressed difficulty with their ruling, they believed that no further action should be taken on the matter. The board ultimately vote in favor of taking no further action to reverse the district’s decision. The only board member voting against the action was Board President Terry Delano.
The door decoration in question was inspired by a scene in the Peanuts classic, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” in which Linus van Pelt stands on a stage and recites a biblical passage describing the Christmas story: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior which is Christ the Lord. That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
The removal of the decoration sparked nearly 500 comments on the Killeen Daily Herald’s Facebook page and became state and national news over the past five days leading up to Tuesday’s meeting.
Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values, who is now Dedra Shannon’s legal representative, had much to say about his displeasure with the board’s ruling.
Many who attended the meeting said the state’s so-called “Merry Christmas Law,” which was enacted 2013, has been misinterpreted by the district.
“Ms. Shannon’s display does not in any way violate the Merry Christmas Law” Saenz said. “You are allowed to have displays. Banning these expressions is a violation of religious freedoms.”
Prior to the board’s decision, Saenz warned the board of his intentions if they did not allow the poster back up on campus.
“Allow the Charlie Brown poster to go up. If not, we will be forced to take other action,” he said.
After the board’s ruling, Saenz said, “The KISD school board has gone rogue and is now in a very dangerous place.”
District administrators last week reviewed the decision made by Patterson Middle School Principal Kara Trevino about the door decoration, and the district Friday confirmed their support of the initial decision to remove the poster.
Joe Goodson, representing the Concerned Christian Citizens, said during the public forum, “Our money says ‘in God we trust.’ Are we supposed to stop using it to not violate other religions’ rights?”
For over an hour. community members spoke in support of Shannon, imploring the board to reverse the decision made previously to remove the poster.
Speakers referenced quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the Pledge of Allegiance in supporting a change in the district’s policy.
On Monday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton criticized KISD’s decision to remove a portion of the decoration that referred to biblical verses.
Paxton described the decision as “an attack on religious liberty.”
Todd Starnes, a Fox News columnist, last week broke the news on the principal’s decision to remove the door decoration and the district’s decision to support her by writing a column that drew national attention.
Board member responses
While board members and KISD officials did not respond directly to public forum comments Tuesday, they did speak during the regular meeting prior to announcing their ruling.
KISD Superintendent John Craft started the dialogue among board members, saying, “We appreciate your comments; this is not an easy decision.” Craft added. “It’s become evident to me that there is an inconsistency as to what can and can’t be displayed for the Christmas holiday, and we owe clarity”
Board member JoAnn Purser expressed her lack of clear understanding of the law’s interpretation.
“I cannot make a decision today without further clarity on the Merry Christmas law. I know what my heart wants me to do, but I know we are all tasked with adhering to this state law.”
Delano closed the remarks, saying, “The poster did not coerce anyone to be a Christian, in my opinion. If this continues to be the trend, there will come a day where we can’t say ‘Christ-mas.’”
The board ultimately recommended a study on the matter, but to not allow the poster to go back up.
Dozens of attendees were visibly upset when leaving the room after the ruling.
Shannon was distraught over the board’s decision. She wiped tears from her eyes while leaving the meeting.