The Missouri Legislature just passed a bill, introduced by Rep. Rick Brattin, aimed to “protect Christmas and Thanksgiving” (the AP’s paraphrase of the representative); the representative “said Christmas has particularly come under criticism from groups seeking to wipe out public references to religion. ‘In schools, especially, they’re not even allowed to mention the word[.]'” The bill provided,
No state or local governmental entity, public building, public park, public school, or public setting or place shall ban or otherwise restrict the practice, mention, celebration, or discussion of any federal holiday.
Fortunately, someone on Governor Jay Nixon’s staff actually considered what the bill would do, rather than just what it’s meant to do, and the Governor vetoed it; here’s an excerpt from the veto message:
House Bill No. 278 would prohibit governmental entities from regulating activities relating to “federal holidays.” The legislation would cover a wide scope of activities falling within the undefined terms of “practice” and “celebration.” House Bill No. 278 constitutes a direct assault on local government authority and curtails the flexibility that cities and counties need to address pressing public health and safety concerns. Indeed, House Bill No. 278 does not contain a public safety exception. As a result, local governments would be hampered in their efforts to enforce existing fireworks ordinances around July 4th. More troubling, House Bill No. 278 would greatly frustrate a ban on fireworks imposed during a period of severe fire risk. During 2012, as much of Missouri experienced drought conditions and large fires put Missourians and their property in peril, many jurisdictions prudently passed fireworks bans. If House Bill No. 278 were to become law, individuals would be permitted to circumvent such bans by simply claiming the fireworks were being used to celebrate July 4th or other federal holiday. Restricting local control in such a manner is harmful to public safety and cannot receive my approval.
The problems with House Bill No. 278 go beyond issues related to public safety. Indeed, under the broad language of the bill, public sector employees at the state and local level could demand leave from work in order to celebrate any federal holiday. This could cause staffing shortages for essential governmental functions including twenty-four hour institutions such as veterans homes, mental health facilities and county jails.
The Governor’s view strikes me as quite correct. Thanks to Prof. Howard Friedman (Religion Clause) for the pointer.
UPDATE: Here’s Rep. Brattin’s explanation of his bill:
This week the Missouri House approved legislation I am sponsoring to protect our individual rights to publicly celebrate federal holidays such as Independence Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s unfortunate that we have reached the point where legislation is necessary to protect these rights, but we have seen in recent years a continued assault on the public celebration of Christmas and other holidays. In fact, I have personal experience with my own children not being allowed to sing Christmas carols at school.
It is time that we take a stand to defend our rights to celebrate these holidays openly. My bill (HB 278) would make it clear that any state or local governmental entity; public building, park, or school; or public setting or place is not allowed to ban or restrict the practice, mention, celebration, or discussion of any federal holiday. It is a change to our state statutes that would protect everyone’s right to practice a federally deemed holiday in a public place.