RI lawmaker aims to protect ‘Merry Christmas’ in the classroom

PROVIDENCE, R.I.  — There isn’t a rule in Rhode Island barring teachers from saying “Merry Christmas” in their classrooms, but one state lawmaker says she wants to make sure the freedom to do so is never compromised.

Rep. Patricia Morgan, R-Coventry, announced plans Tuesday to introduce a bill in the upcoming session that would prevent teachers and other staffers from getting in trouble for offering a festive greeting or teaching students about Christmas, Hanukkah, and other holidays, despite their religious undertones.

It also aims to allow school districts to put up decorations associated with these celebrations, such as Christmas trees and menorahs, according to Morgan.

“Christmas is a part of the very fabric of this country,” Morgan said in a statement. “The traditions that are passed down from generation to generation enrich and inform our culture. They form a basis for our ‘melting pot’ and are another piece that binds our country together. No school teacher or staff member should risk censure for teaching about those holiday traditions.”

Morgan said the legislation is modeled after a similar law passed in Texas in 2013. She cited a recent incident in which a school principal forced a staff member take down Christmas decorations; the teacher was spared prosecution under the law.

Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU of Rhode Island, released a statement Wednesday saying the bill seeks to address an issue that doesn’t actually exist.

“The so-called War on Christmas that this bill seeks to address is as fanciful as Santa Claus, Rudolph and Festivus. While we strongly support freedom for all religions, large and small, in the coming months we look forward to addressing real, not made-up, attacks on religious liberty, such as the President-elect’s truly un-American proposal for a Muslim registration database.”

Morgan’s bill is co-sponsored by Republican Reps. Anthony Giarrusso of East Greenwich, Sherry Roberts of Coventry, Justin Price of Exeter, and Robert A. Nardolillo III of Coventry.