During this past Christmas season, parents and students from school systems throughout metro Atlanta approached me with a tragic concern.
Their children were being discouraged from saying "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Hanukkah" in public schools.
Astounded that their free speech was being impaired by teachers and other school officials, I sensed this was part of a national trend to remove any reference to Judeo-Christian values from the public arena. Instead, the more neutral "Happy Holidays" or "Seasons Greetings" were being encouraged as less offensive salutations for the season.
Today the Georgia House will vote on my legislation that will protect the free speech rights of students, teachers or any public employees so they can express themselves in relation to the celebration of a legal or public holiday.
Some say there is a secular war against Christmas to promote inclusiveness and not offend those who may not practice Christian or Jewish faiths -- the religions that have set the values for our nation.
My legislation reiterates our First Amendment rights to express ourselves concerning religious holidays without fear of intimidation. No student or government employee should have to leave their free speech rights at the school house or office door when it comes to their religious beliefs just to placate others.
This is an issue because of society's growing acceptance that no one should be made to feel "uncomfortable" when another person expresses his or her religious beliefs. But the First Amendment is at the top of the Bill of Rights because the Founding Fathers had a history of dealing with British kings who repressed free speech and freedom of religious expression.
When we speak freely, we always risk offending someone. There will always be a person who doesn't like what someone says whether it is related to religion, politics, money or other topics that often stir debate or controversy. We cannot curtail free speech just because someone's feelings might get in the way.
But that is what makes our nation great and different from so many other countries. We have that right to say what we believe, particularly in relation to a religious holiday. We don't have to feel guilty that others may not share our values or beliefs.
Others are free to hold secular values. They too can express those values without fear of retribution. It's just that secularists should not try to stem the rights of those who want to express their joy about a happy and holy season such as Christmas with greetings such as "Merry Christmas" or even "Noel."
Fox News anchor John Gibson just released a book entitled "The War on Christmas" documenting cases that are worse than what we've seen in Georgia. For example, in Illinois, state workers were forbidden from using the term "Merry Christmas" while at work. In Arizona, school officials ruled it unconstitutional for a student to make any reference to the religious history of Christmas in a class project. And in Rhode Island, local officials banned Christians from participating in a project to decorate the lawn of City Hall for Christmas.
The U.S. Constitution says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." It is that last clause that the ACLU and others have ignored for years as they've tried to stamp out the expression of religion in any form.
The legislation we will vote on Tuesday will also include protections so that no state agency or school board would be prohibited from implementing reasonable regulations to maintain order. But we will not allow political correctness to continue to run amock and sanitize religious freedom.
Clay Cox is a Republican state representative from Lilburn.