It’s that time of year when discussions of “the war on Christmas” make their way into the national news media.

In the past, those discussions have focused on retail chains subsituting “Happy Holidays” for  “Merry Christmas,” removal of Nativity scenes from public settings and even Starbucks removing Christmas imagery from its holiday cups last year.

This year, the spotlight has been focused squarely on Killeen.

It’s all because Patterson Middle School’s principal told a school aide to remove her Christmas decoration from a door because it contained a Bible verse. Killeen Independent School District officials backed the principal’s actions, citing  the state’s 2013 “Merry Christmas law.”

That was just the start of a tumultous week that saw the story picked up by state and national media, an emotional, standing-room-only school board public forum on the issue and an injunction by a district judge ordering the poster be reinstated. On top of all that, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced he was suing KISD, calling the district’s action an attack on religious liberty.

Certainly, separation of church and state is a serious issue, and as agents of the state, public schools are barred from promoting a particular religion. That part of the law is pretty clear, and that’s obviously what the principal had in mind when she ordered the decoration removed.

But there’s another factor at play here, and that’s religious expression.

That’s apparently the principle Paxton was standing on when he said last week that schools can’t silence a biblical reference to Christmas  — citing the same “Merry Christmas law.”

In this case, that expression took the form of a cartoon — an iconic one, at that.

The poster featured a scene from the animated classic, “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” in which one of the characters, Linus Van Pelt, quotes Scripture directly: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior which is Christ the Lord,” then remarking, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

A Fox News columnist noted that the poster was well-received by students and in place for several days before it was ordered taken down.

The school board’s decision backing the district’s order to remove the poster didn’t sit well with most of the residents in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting — nor did it sit well with Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values and legal counsel for Dedra Shannon, the aide who put up the poster. Reacting to the board’s vote, Saenz threatened to take the district to court over the issue — and he did.

On Thursday, Judge Jack Jones issued a temporary injunction ordering the poster reinstated, providing it contained the words “Ms. Shannon’s Christmas message.”

The judge’s ruling was a reasonable compromise, and it seemed to satisfy all parties involved.

With only one day remaining before the school’s two-week holiday break, the poster wasn’t on display long. Yet, the judge’s ruling once again raised questions about what place religion has in our public schools.

Granted, Killeen is in the heart of the Bible Belt, where Christian faith-inspired displays are commonplace. But Killeen ISD is also a district with a diverse population, which includes people of many faiths, as well as those who are not religiously inclined. The very fact that our community is so culturally diverse should encourage district officials to promote displays of that diversity in all areas — including religion.

Ultimately, however, this is the Christmas season. And while a school poster featuring a Christmas-themed Bible verse caused concern, it merely provided the historical context behind the holiday.

Once Christmas is over, this controversy will fade. But while the emotion behind the poster incident may be seasonal, the overarching issues of religious expression and church-state separation will continue to be debated for years to come.

And a year from now there will be some other holiday controversy — just as sure as Christmas.

dmiller@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7543

(5) comments

Alvin

This is the personal opinion of this writer.
Well once again I find myself opposing to the sentiments of @eyewatchingu: and @Bubba1: and agree with @Don76550: in that I am of the opinion that 'this controversy has once again reared it's ugly head with the supposition that The First Amendment suppresses ALL religion aspects' and nothing could be further from the truth.
Copy: @bubba1: 'As stated, "as agents of the state, public schools are barred from promoting a particular religion".' End of copy.
I do not agree that 'to suppress ALL religious aspect from a school is not required to live up to the First Amendment for it states Promoting a particular religion'. When the Constitution was written, in 1787 signing, the preponderance of Christian religions was prevalent, there was no Muslim religions here, and there is a preponderance of Christian religions here in this day, approximately 85 percent.
@eyewatchingu: I contend that 'in this context, you are an ignorant individual, not stupid or simple minded, but ignorant' when you can state;
copy: 'Between Abbot cutting funds for mental health because of a religious cult that believes in aliens and call themselves scientology and believe in stalking people that do not agree and clambake to the point people starve or committee suicide , and then you have the Christians who don't even have a clue how and why they celebrate Christmas, which was really just a pagan purging celebration, and then last and not lest you have the city of Killeen, who in some where has just plain lost sight of why and what men and women have fought for, and that fight was for everyone to have the right to believe as they wish with out fear and sadly when we allow this in our schools we are no better then Muslims and scientology when we are forcing children to be subjected to ones personal beliefs based on myth and not facts. So If one teacher post something about Christ I hope other religions will force the school to post something about The Jewish religion, the pagan religion, scientology, Muslim and so on. Just like when we were in school, if you had one child chewing gum, they better have bought enough for the rest of the class.' End of copy.
It is my personal opinion that it is you who does not have a clue as to religion, from any of the Christian beliefs, and what it really entails.
@eyewatchingu: copy: 'So If one teacher post something about Christ I hope other religions will force the school to post something about The Jewish religion, the pagan religion, scientology, Muslim and so on. Just like when we were in school, if you had one child chewing gum, they better have bought enough for the rest of the class.' End of copy.
If, as you say, that if one is an agnostic, then you think that gives the other 15 percent the right to stop all religious performance of one who is a Christian??? In this case I feel it certain that 'you do not have that right', to stop all religious activity 'just because are of that mind'. If you would have voiced that opinion, say 60 to 90 years prior, you would have been escorted out, no if or and's about it. This was, and still is, a Christian Nation.
To put a poster on a door that cites a single verse about the meaning of Christmas, well I say, that the teacher, principle, or school board member has a very narrow view of what the majority of 'the masses' think and if that be the case, I tend to agree with @Don76550: the school board, the principle, the individual teacher, if that be the case, should be fired, recalled, or other recourse should be taken.
This principle won in that she was successful in the removal of that poster until the day before school was let out for the observance of Christmas, but if she, or any other individual is responsible for any duplication of that or a similar accounting of a Christmas message, she or any other individual should be immediately removed from his/her position.
This is the personal opinion of this writer.
One of the few who voted in this last election..

eyewatchingu

As a Taxpayer, I will be getting a hold of freedom from religion group and the other groups, I will not pay for this sign to be in the school, I will sue the school and the city if I have to. This is just crazy, a city council that can not budget, a school dist that will not teach kids the facts, and a city that has more churches then people going to them, a city that has more tax and tax free breaks for churches then any other city, and yet we want to know where the city monie is, take a look people, churches pay 0 taxes, and any one can get a tax expemt card just by saying they are religouse, even the 1% bikers do it, hll angels started their own biker church, the money taken at biker churches go right into the hands of biker gangs, to operate a biker church you have to pay the HA, or the Mother chapter in that area. They did this to get tax free, so do other so called Christian churches. You want to go after the soldiers on 100%disability yet not look at these churches that are milking the city dry by not paying their fair share of taxes, and yet they want to let this sign in our public schools. where will it end, the milking of the people, for falsehood and out right just plain thief. This is just sick to see a city like Killeen held back because the people are not allowed to evolve and become like other cities that have grown and brought life and good things to their people.

http://www.allabouthistory.org/arguments-against-school-prayer-faq.htm
Arguments Against School Prayer
QUESTION: What are the arguments against school prayer?

ANSWER:

Various arguments against school prayer are listed below:
School prayer is unconstitutional. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment provides that government shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion. Because public schools are government funded, prayer led by school officials or incorporated into the school routine amounts to government-established religion.

School prayer violates the “separation of church and state.” Although this phrase is not found in the U.S. Constitution, it is an accepted principle of American law providing that the government cannot interfere in the practices of the church nor advance or advocate religious observances in government settings.

Public schools are intended for education, not religious observance or proselytization.

Prayer is school is already legal. Students are already allowed to pray on a voluntary basis (in a non-disruptive way) so formal school prayer is unnecessary.

School prayer may lead to intolerance. Public prayer will highlight religious differences of which students may have been unaware. Those students who abstain from school prayer or protest against it may be ostracized.

School prayer is inherently coercive and cannot be implemented in a way that is truly voluntary. What young child could regard prayer as voluntary where it is lead by his teacher, incorporated into the school routine and engaged in by the majority of his peers?

The public school system is created for all students and supported by all taxpayers. It should therefore remain neutral on religious issues over which students and taxpayers will differ.

Since no formal school prayer could simultaneously honor and uphold the tenets of the many religions practiced in the U.S., as well as various denominational differences, prayer is better left in the home and religious institution of the individual student’s choice. A related argument is that school prayer usurps the role of parents and religious institutions who desire to provide religious instruction in keeping with their own beliefs.

eyewatchingu

Between Abbot cutting funds for mental health because of a religious cult that believes in aliens and call themselves scientology and believe in stalking people that do not agree and clambake to the point people starve or committee suicide , and then you have the Christians who don't even have a clue how and why they celebrate Christmas, which was really just a pagan purging celebration, and then last and not lest you have the city of Killeen, who in some where has just plain lost sight of why and what men and women have fought for, and that fight was for everyone to have the right to believe as they wish with out fear and sadly when we allow this in our schools we are no better then Muslims and scientology when we are forcing children to be subjected to ones personal beliefs based on myth and not facts. So If one teacher post something about Christ I hope other religions will force the school to post something about The Jewish religion, the pagan religion, scientology, Muslim and so on. Just like when we were in school, if you had one child chewing gum, they better have bought enough for the rest of the class.
If I was a parent of a child I would be pulling my kid out and asking myself, why our kids are not taught facts in public schools in Texas, why is texas allowing our children of the future to be left behind in an area that can hold them back later in life. Lets face it, if your child believes adam and eve were first and have no clue where and when prehistoric animals came in well then you need to ask yourself, wouldn't a picture of t rex be more fitting then a poorly drawn and badly handwritten sign about a man that was so magical he could be risen from the dead and born from not. Even Harry Potter himself would laugh. Faith is something special its not about boasting your love for god, its not about taking money and spending it in another country when you take the money from local people that cant feed themselves, its not about forcing your views, its about having faith in yourself.

Bubba1

The Establishment Clause of the Constitution is clear.

As stated, "as agents of the state, public schools are barred from promoting a particular religion".

State laws cannot overrule or supersede the Constitution of the United States.

While the decoration is very nice, and a wonderful sentiment, it violates the Endorsement Test of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the united States.

This cannot be allowed.

don76550

A recall election is still necessary to remove this irresponsible school board

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