Cranky Over Christmas: N.J. Lawmaker Pushes Guidelines For Public School Holiday Celebrations

What would the holiday season be without lawmakers like Assemblyman Ron Dancer, who seem to have nothing better to do than waste taxpayer resources on totally unnecessary bills?

The “War on Christmas” may be a myth, but that didn’t stop a New Jersey Assemblyman from introducing a bill that would tell school districts exactly what they may say and do to celebrate the holidays.

Assemblyman Ron Dancer (R-Burlington) introduced A 4481 last week. It permits holiday symbols (such as menorahs, Christmas trees or nativity scenes) on school property, says school districts can include religious-themed songs in holiday programs and says it’s permissible for districts to teach students about “traditional winter celebrations.”

When it comes to the music, the bill states that singing programs must be inclusive: either the songs of multiple religions must be incorporated, or if only one religion’s music is performed, then the program must also include songs of a secular nature.

As for the holiday displays, it’s the same deal: They must include multiple faith traditions, or if only one religion is represented, something secular must be present too.

The legislation even goes so far as to spell out that school staffers can say “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Hanukkah” and “Happy Holidays.”

In a statement, Dancer (no relation to Santa Claus’ reindeer), explained that he’s tired of lawsuits harming the holidays.

“The holiday season has become a battleground in regards to religious and secular celebrations on public property with the fighting ultimately ending in the courtroom,” he opined. “It’s time to put such issues to rest. This legislation is all inclusive. It protects everyone’s First Amendment right to free speech without promoting adherence to a particular religious belief.”

Dancer claimed the bill is in response to a recent “controversy” in which the Bordentown School District booted three religious songs from its elementary school winter program because of “legal considerations,” then later changed its mind about the music.

“The case captured the interest of many throughout the U.S. as it received national media coverage,” Dancer said. (In fact, this incident was mainly the obsession of the Fox News Channel, which used it to further phony “war on Christmas” claims. Resident Fox blowhard Bill O’Reilly called the Bordentown superintendent a “pinhead” for her initial refusal to sanction songs about Jesus.)

Dancer received backing from a New Jersey mayor. But Robbinsville Mayor Dave Fried isn’t really helping the cause since he seems to pine for the days of majority rule.

“I want to go back to the days when we could say ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘Happy Hanukkah’ and not be scorned, or forced to ignore the fact that there are people celebrating those religious events during this most special time of the year,” Fried bemoaned in an open letter. 

What would the holiday season be without lawmakers like Dancer, who seem to have nothing better to do than waste taxpayer resources on totally unnecessary bills?

But the other problem here appears to be Dancer’s intent. He clearly didn’t like the near-removal of songs about Jesus from Bordentown’s holiday concert, and now he is using that “incident” as a justification for pushing faith into public schools. That isn’t the job of government.

Dancer also seems to have come up with a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. Individual public school staffers aren’t prohibited from wishing kids “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Holidays,” “Happy Hanukkah” or any other related greeting.

Additionally, it’s perfectly fine for public schools to put on holiday music programs that include religious songs, as long as it’s not limited to just one faith and secular tunes are also used.

So in short, this bill does absolutely nothing beyond fuel a “war on the holidays” that does not exist – except in the minds of the Religious Right.    

Fortunately no action has been taken on Dancer’s proposal, which was referred to the Assembly Education Committee. We hope it stays that way.