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November 30, 2005


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Christmas ‘banned’ in Jackson County?
Will There be vestiges of “Christmas” in the Jackson County School System this year?
According to a major national legal defense fund, the system has imposed anti-Christmas policies that may violate individual rights.
But school superintendent Andy Byers said that the accusations are just rumors and that the system isn’t doing anything different this year than it has in the past.
The Alliance Defense Fund, an 11-year-old Christian legal group, faxed a seven page letter to the school system’s administrative offices this week complaining about what it called the system’s “broad reaching decision to censor anything religious related to the Christmas holiday” and asking the system to “revise your policies.”
In its letter, the ADF said it had been contacted by Regina Hembree, an employee of the system at Benton Elementary School, about reports of anti-Christmas rules.
According to the ADF letter, the school system has censored “anything religious related to the Christmas holiday. This censorship includes the wearing of ‘any pins, angels, crosses, clothing’ that contain any religious connotation or affiliation. You have also prohibited the teachers from referring to any party as a ‘Christmas party,’ and from any display of a Bible in their rooms. We have also been notified that you have removed certain religious Christmas songs from the chorus ‘Winter’ concert and censored out the word ‘God’ from another song.”
On its website, the ADF also claims the Jackson County School System has banned teachers from using the phrase “Merry Christmas.”
“Frankly, it’s ridiculous that we’re even discussing whether it’s okay to say ‘Merry Christmas,’” wrote David Cortman, a lawyer for the ADF.
In its letter to the school system, the ADF cites several court cases it says allows for symbols of Christmas in public schools.
“Jackson County’s prohibition on Christmas thus goes too far,” says the letter.
DENIES ‘ACCUSATIONS’
But Byers said the system “categorically denies the accusations that have been rumored to be out there. We haven’t done anything different this year than we have done for the past several years.”
Byers said on Nov. 16, school principals were told to remind teachers to be “sensitive” to various faiths during the holiday season.
Byers said that the system never banned the use of “Merry Christmas” as a greeting and that the only mention of apparel related to the wearing of religious slogans, such as “Jesus is the reason for the season.”
Byers also said it’s okay to refer to “Christmas parties” and that Bibles may be kept as reference books, but cannot be displayed on the desk or clothing as part of a teacher’s personal attire.
As for Christmas songs, Byers said the principals were told that if a program has religious songs, it should include songs from all faiths from within the school.
“We told them....do a Hanukkah song too, just out of courtesy to all involved.”
JEFFERSON HAS FEW RULES
The Jefferson City School System has some informal, but no written rules regarding holidays, said Superintendent John Jackson. The system does tell teachers not to wear overt religious apparel, such as "Jesus is the reason for the season" sweatshirt or angel pins.
But Jackson said the system continues to use the word “Christmas” in its dialogue.
"We still tend to refer to “Christmas holidays” because it has been known for that as long as the Jefferson School System has been in existence,” said Jackson. “We are mindful of what the law says about the separation of church and state. We try to be very careful that we abide by the Supreme Court rulings."
Jackson said the school is also careful about classroom decorations.
“We do talk about Christmas decorations and kinds of things you can put up — reindeer and snowflakes — and things they should refrain from putting up, such as angels and nativity scenes."

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