A bill has passed in the S.C. House that would protect South Carolinians’ rights to acknowledge traditional winter holidays on school grounds.

Primary sponsors of the bill are Rep. Bill Sandifer of Seneca and Rep. Phil Owens of Easley. The bill, H.4458, was approved overwhelmingly in the House by a vote of 97-2. It now has moved to the Senate for debate.

Under the bill, students and school district employees would be able to exchange traditional holiday greetings such as “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Hanukkah,” or “Happy Holidays.” In addition, schools would be allowed to put up displays on school property such as nativity scenes, Christmas trees, or menorahs. The displays would be allowed if they either include more than one religion or have an equal number of religious and secular symbols. The bill outlines that any displays “must not include a message that encourages adherence to a particular religious belief.”

Sandifer said he filed the bill because of the concerns expressed by schoolteachers and administrators who feared lawsuits if they acknowledged the holidays.

“My goal with this bill is to protect the First Amendment rights of the people of South Carolina,” Sandifer said. “Our nation is plagued by a situation where law suits are being filed against school districts for having holiday displays. I believe it’s simply a travesty that we have to have a law to protect people’s freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but I am committed to making sure those freedoms are protected.”

“Whether it’s Christmas or Hanukkah, our children, teachers, parents and school administrators should have the freedom to acknowledge these traditions in our public schools without landing in hot water or fearing litigation,” Sandifer continued.  “The Merry Christmas Bill is designed to protect that freedom.”