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SACRAMENTO – A California substitute teacher is petitioning for a ballot initiative that would ensure public-school students are allowed to hear or perform Christmas music during the holiday season.

The state attorney general’s office has given Merry Susan Hyatt and her brother David Joseph Hyatt permission to begin collecting signatures for their “Freedom to Present Christmas Music in Public School Classrooms or Assemblies” initiative.

Merry Hyatt, a substitute teacher from Redding, said she was troubled during a Christmas celebration at a school where she worked. She told the New America Foundation, “We were having Christmas without Jesus.”

“This is to make sure that we are allowed to have Christmas carols, and no school board member or principal is going to tell us, ‘No, you may not play “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” in your classroom,’” she told KTXL-TV News.

The Hyatts must collect 433,971 signatures from registered voters by March 29, 2010, to get the measure on California’s ballot next June or November.

The initiative states:

52710. The people of California find and declare both of the following:

(a) Listening to, or performing, Christmas music during the holiday season is a longstanding American tradition and a significant element of our cultural heritage as Americans.

(b) The parents and guardians of public school children should have the right to decide whether or not their children may hear Christmas music in the classrooms and assemblies at those schools.

According to the statutory amendment, “Christmas music” includes, but is not limited to, “carols, songs, and instrumental works whose subject matter relates to the celebration of the Christmas holiday or to the season during which that holiday is observed.”


Initiative requires public schools to provide opportunities “for listening to or performing Christmas music.”

The initiative requires public elementary and secondary schools to provide “opportunities to its pupils for listening to or performing Christmas music at an appropriate time of year” and allows Christmas music to be incorporated into art and social studies curricula and for cultural enrichment during school assemblies.

If the measure passes, schools would be required to provide parents with written notice of presentation of Christmas music at least 21 days before the event. Parents would be given the option to exclude their student from the Christmas activities and accept an “appropriate alternative” activity.

The initiative provides that a civil lawsuit may be brought in superior court to enforce the requirements.

Hyatt said she originally used the term “freedom,” but the wording on the measure has been changed to the “Requires Public Schools to Offer Christmas Music” initiative.

Even so, she believes public-school students stand to benefit from hearing Christmas carols.

“These kids, they need it,” she said. “They need to see that we believe in Jesus, and He is the Prince of Peace. That’s why we are the best country on Earth.”


 

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