TN bill would allow holiday greetings, displays at school
State Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville
NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -
The separation of church and state prohibits any religious teachings in public school classrooms, but a new proposal would allow Tennessee students to observe faith-based holidays while at school.
"I'm sure anybody who votes 'no' on this gets coal in their stocking at Christmas," said State Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville.
Campfield sponsored a bill that would allow schools to teach the history of traditional winter holidays. It also allows students and staff to say traditional greetings like "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Hanukkah."
"We shouldn't be stopping people from being able to say something simple like 'Merry Christmas,' and I thought it was a reasonable bill," Campfield said.
The bill would also allow schools to display symbols like a nativity or a tree so long as it sits in a display with a symbol of a different holiday or something secular.
But that part of the bill poses a problem for the local American Civil Liberties Union.
"A school setting is very different than a public park, so while the Supreme Court has said you can put up a nativity scene in a public park as long as there's a menorah, putting that same kind of display in a public school setting is not as clear-cut," said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the Tennessee ACLU.
Campfield said he wrote the bill not to force faith. Instead, he said, he wants to make it easier for those celebrating to do so at school without fear of attack.
"Some people are afraid 'O Christmas Tree' is an endorsement of religion, and this isn't," Campfield said.
Campfield said he modeled this bill after a similar bill in Texas.
The measure was unanimously approved 30-0 in the state Senate on Monday. The House version of the bill will be up in an education committee Tuesday.
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