A Texas school district is doubling down on claims that a teacher forced her religious beliefs on students by hanging a poster of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” over her office door. Even after the state’s attorney general, Ken Paxton, said the ban on the poster violated state law, the school district insisted on keeping it.
Dedra Shannon, a staffer at Patterson Middle School in Killeen, was ordered to remove a door-length poster featuring the iconic scene of Linus in front of a kid-sized tree uttering the true meaning of Christmas: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior which is Christ the Lord. That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
Shannon put up the poster on December 5, but the principal confronted her two days later. “I’m disappointed. It is a slap in the face of Christianity,” Shannon told Fox News’ Todd Starnes.
The principal argued that the poster was “an issue of separation of church and state” and that it “had to come down because it might offend kids from other religions or those who do not have a religion.” The principal said Shannon could keep the picture of Linus up but had to remove the offending dialogue.
“I just took the entire thing down,” Shannon recalled. “I wasn’t going to leave Linus and the Christmas tree without having the dialogue. That’s the whole point of why it was put up.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton would not let this stand, however. He accused the Killeen Independent School District of violating the state’s Merry Christmas Law. That law, passed in 2013, ensures that no school official in Texas can silence a biblical reference to Christmas.
“We passed that law precisely because of this type of discrimination against people of faith,” Paxton told Starnes. “This is an attack on religious liberty and a violation of the First Amendment and state law.”
The school district was unmoved by his arguments, however. “Our 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,” the district wrote in a statement.
Exactly how a poster showing Linus with a well-known Christmas quote constitutes “imposing” personal beliefs on students the district did not explain. It seems to imply that the mere possibility of a non-Christian student seeing the poster is enough to cause psychological harm.
Next Page: Why this kind of censorship should be offensive … to non-Christians.
While no school district would explicitly say that the possibility of exposing students to Christian ideas is a violation of their rights, that is the underlying argument behind such censorship.
This assertion is not only offensive to the very idea of free speech, but also to the people it supposedly protects — are non-Christian students so fragile that they must be protected from any mention of Christian ideas?
The school district justified the censorship, describing the poster as “a six-foot-plus tall door decoration in the main hallway of the school building” which included “a reference to a Bible verse covering much of the door.” Although the quote is indeed a Bible reference, it is more directly a reference to popular culture.
Would the school censor a Harry Potter poster featuring the quote “the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death”? This quote, central to the plot of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, is indeed a Bible reference, but that does not make it any less central to J.K. Rowling’s story — just as the Bible reference in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” has a key point in that story.
The Bible is a fundamental part of the world’s history and culture — both in the West and elsewhere. Censoring such an important book — or any reference to it — just because it is the Christian holy text is not only offensive, but ignorant.
While the district argued that the Merry Christmas Law “requires that a display not encourage adherence to a particular religion,” there is a major difference between saying Christmas is about Jesus and telling students to worship him.
After all, the very name of Christmas emphasizes the centrality of Christ. The holiday is about the birth of Jesus, and that’s all Linus was saying.
Shannon was not asking her students to convert to Christianity. Her poster was merely celebrating the reason for the season. But that’s not inclusive enough for Killeen’s public schools.
In response to this issue, the district sent Todd Starnes a statement emphasizing diversity:
The Killeen Independent School District celebrates and embraces the diverse cultures and values of our students and employees. We remain proud of our diversity and the community which we serve.
How exactly does silencing a staffer’s voice fit into “celebrating and embracing the diverse cultures and values of our students and employees”? Doesn’t this incident show that the district is not proud of at least one culture represented at the school?
If the district is so proud of diversity, why not encourage the free speech of everyone, Christians included?