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Arkansas bill defends Christmas greetings in schools


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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Classrooms could be filled with Christmas trees, menorahs and other religious holiday imagery under a bill filed by an Arkansas lawmaker who wants to defend teachers and students who wish to celebrate Christmas at school.

The proposal would allow a district to showcase a winter holiday item as long as the display includes a secular scene or symbol, or an image from another religion. It would bar schools from encouraging the practice of a particular religion through a display.

The bill also states that students and teachers at a school can say, "merry Christmas," ''happy Hanukkah" and "happy holidays."

Republican Rep. Justin Harris of West Fork said he wants to protect people who are worried about being politically correct or offensive. But attorney Sam Grover with the Freedom From Religion Foundation said such a law isn't needed, noting that people are already able to use such holiday greetings at school.

"It's unfortunate that Rep. Harris feels the need to waste the General Assembly's time in order to pander to religious constituents," Grover said. "This bill is unnecessary; it doesn't change the law in any way."

Harris said he was partly inspired to draft the bill, patterned after a 2013 Texas law, after schools in his district started calling the December vacation "winter break."

"It is a Christmas break," Harris said Monday. "I think this will give the schools the choice to be able to use Christmas break but will also give teachers the choice to use Christmas."

Only Christmas and Hanukkah are mentioned specifically in the bill. Harris said his intent is not to be divisive, and that he's open to adding language to include some other holidays, specifically Kwanzaa.

"I think that's an important holiday for the African-American community," Harris said. "The reason I didn't put it in there is because it's after the Christmas holiday."

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