Proclaiming that “the holidays are coming early this year,” Gov. Rick Perry signed the “Merry Christmas” bill into law Thursday, clarifying that public schools may display Christmas trees, nativity scenes and menorahs on school property.
Perry also used the Capitol signing ceremony to address other matters of state business, confirming that he will not expand the Legislature’s workload during the special session and dismissing fears that his effort to oust Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg could derail pending ethics investigations.
Most of the event’s focus, however, was on the Christmas bill, which will not change current law but is intended to reassure school districts that there is no need to limit holiday displays — including greetings such as “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah” — over fears of litigation.
“It’s a shame that a bill like this one I’m signing today is even required,” Perry said. “But I am proud that we’re standing up for religious freedom in this state.”
Perry used three pens in the signing ceremony, presenting one to Reagan Bohac, the 8-year-old son of the bill’s author, Rep. Dwayne Bohac, R-Houston. Bohac said his son inspired the bill after reporting that he had helped decorate his classroom’s “holiday tree with holiday ornaments.”
“This is just political correctness that’s run amok, and our brains have completely fallen out as a result,” Bohac said. “So this bill seeks to restore some sanity to our civil discourse.”
Bearded Santa Claus impersonators — with full white beards and red cowboy hats — joined the crowd of observers that included cheerleaders from Kountze High School, who were wearing red T-shirts declaring, “We cheer for Christ.” The cheer squad recently won a court challenge allowing them to continue displaying Bible verses on banners during sporting events.
In answer to reporters’ questions on other topics, Perry said:
• There isn’t enough time to add other issues before the special session ends June 25. The move apparently kills hopes to seek approval for public university construction bonds.
• It will be up to Travis County to determine how to prioritize pending investigations if the governor follows through on threats to wipe out state funding for the district attorney’s office Public Integrity Unit if Lehmberg, convicted of driving while intoxicated, does not resign. Officials with the prosecutor’s office have said the cuts could jeopardize about 400 pending cases involving public corruption, tax fraud and similar crimes.
“If that line item were to be removed, then Travis County would have to prioritize whether they think those cases are important enough to go forward with, or some other cases. So that would be their call.” Perry said.
• He has not yet decided whether to appeal FEMA’s decision rejecting disaster aid to help rebuild West after the fertilizer plant explosion. “My instinct is probably we will,” Perry said.
“I was on the stage in Waco when the president of the United States looked into the eyes of the people of West, Texas, and said, ‘We’re going to do everything we can to make sure you are taken care of.’ And so this doesn’t square. Maybe FEMA wasn’t paying attention. Maybe FEMA didn’t get the message,” Perry said.