(Nashville, TN) A new Tennessee bill would allow students and teachers to use religious phrases in the classroom.
It's called the Merry Christmas Bill, and aims at protecting students' and teachers' right to use what it calls "traditional greetings during winters celebrations."
The law includes all religions and phrases like 'Merry Christmas' and 'Happy Hanukkah,' and allows teachers to keep having Christmas trees and menorahs in their classrooms.
The bill is sponsored Knoxville Republican State Senator Stacey Campfield, who is also well known for sponsoring a bill that doesn't allow teachers to say gay in school. It's better known as the ‘Don't Say Gay Bill.’
He claims the purpose of the Merry Christmas Bill is to keep teachers and students from being sued for using the greetings.
“I think that we should be able to express our opinions,” said Jenise Kinlaw.
Kinlaw said she believes laws that protect separation of church and state are too restrictive in schools and trump freedom of speech and religion.
She thinks there is a need for a bill like this because she was once told by a teacher not to reference religion.
“It wasn't supposed to be tied in the classroom. So I didn't understand that because that was my personal preference,” said Kinlaw.
WREG’s political commentator Otis Sanford said this is less about freedom of speech in school and more about politics, and believes Campfield trying to pander to his base.
“It's another example of government outreach. When people like Stacey Campfield say government needs to stay out of our lives, well, he puts government in our lives more than he should,” said Sanford.
Tennessee's chapter of the ACUL gave us a statement saying: "Senator Campfield is envisioning a problem that does not exist. ‘Merry Christmas’ greetings in and of themselves are not problematic. As Governor Haslam has said, legislators should not be filing legislation just to be wasting paper, and this bill falls into that.”
News Channel 3 reached out to Sen. Campfield for an interview, but we haven't heard back.
SB1425, which will be considered by the General Assembly in 2014, is similar to one passed this year in Texas.
Gov. Rick Perry said the law ensures religious freedom by making it okay for traditional holiday greetings and religious symbols to be used on school property while stressing that freedom of religion is not the same thing as freedom from religion.
He said the law gives students from all faiths freedom of expression, and that use of religious greetings and symbols will educate students on different religions.
Last year, the Tennessee chapter of the ACLU sent a letter to schools warning them to use only secular symbols.
Many schools have cancelled Christmas parties and eliminated Christmas trees or call them Holiday Trees.