Judge: Disputed local school Christmas decoration should go back up

(Texas Values photo)
(Texas Values photo)(KWTX)
Published: Dec. 13, 2016 at 5:21 PM CST
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Bell County State District Judge Jack Jones sided Thursday afternoon with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and granted a temporary injunction against the Killeen ISD, barring officials from enforcing a middle school principal’s decision to remove a school Christmas decoration that included a Bible verse.

“Religious discrimination towards Christians has become a holiday tradition of sorts among certain groups,” Paxton said.

“I am glad to see that the court broke through the left’s rhetorical fog and recognized that a commitment to diversity means protecting everyone’s individual religious expression.”

The judge also ruled that the decoration must include the words “Ms. Shannon’s Christmas Message” in letters as large as the Bible verse.

“We believe that directing the individual to include the additional text better complies with state and federal law,” the school district said in a brief press release.

“We support this decision.”

Earlier Thursday Paxton filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit arising from the dispute over the decoration and in the motion sought the temporary injunction.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Charles Patterson Middle School nurse’s aide Dedra Shannon, challenges the district’s decision to remove the decoration from the door to the nurse’s office in a school hallway.

Jonathan Saenz, the president of Texas Values, who represents Shannon, praised the judge’s ruling Thursday.

“Nothing says ‘Merry Christmas’ like a court victory for religious freedom in December in public schools,” he said.

“This scenario is exactly why the Merry Christmas law was written- to protect teachers, staff, and students in their expression of the Christmas season."

The decoration, which included a sketch of the Peanut’s character Linus and a quote from a scene from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” in which the character Linus recites the annunciation to the shepherds from the Gospel of Luke, was placed on the door on December 5.

The school’s principal told Shannon two days later that the drawing of Linus could remain, but the partial quote from the Bible, which read “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord,” needed to be removed.

Killeen School Board members voted 6-1 Tuesday night to support the principal’s decision, but Paxton said in a press release Thursday “KISD’s actions and arguments present a serious danger to the First Amendment rights of all public-school students and teachers.”

“Once again, public schools have decided that their commitment to diversity does not extend to Christians,” Paxton said.

Paxton said last week the display was protected by the Merry Christmas law the Legislature passed in 2013.

“The law in fact encourages school districts to take an inclusive approach to religious and secular celebrations that are both respectful and accepting of different viewpoints. Killeen ISD made a clear legal error when it decided it had to censor staff member Dedra Shannon’s Christmas decoration simply because it incorporated some religious terminology,” Paxton said Thursday.

District officials said in a statement last week that “employees are free to celebrate the Christmas and holiday season in the manner of their choosing. However, employees are not permitted to impose their personal beliefs on students.”

“Upon review, it is clear that this display was not in keeping with the

Merry Christmas Bill (House Bill 308), which requires that a display not encourage adherence to a particular religion,” the KISD said in a statement last Friday.

One section of the law reads: "A display relating to a traditional winter celebration may not include a message that encourages adherence to a particular religious belief."

“I am deeply saddened that the Killeen ISD school board voted to ban my Charlie Brown Christmas poster," Shannon said in a Texas Values press release issued after the school board vote.

"I believe it is discriminatory to not allow Christians, like myself, to put up a display that is simply an expression of the story of Christmas.”