An open letter to the Missouri legislature

Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg

By Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg

Dear Rep. Rick Brattin and Members of the Missouri Legislature,

I am writing in response to a letter that was sent out to School Administrators and Board Members regarding HB 278, which prohibits any state or local governmental entity; public building, park, or school; or public setting or place from banning or restricting the practice, mention, celebration, or discussion of any federal holiday

I keep reading this letter over and over, and while you may be “excited and extremely pleased,” I am appalled that our state government has spent so much time and energy on this bill.  Why are you not spending time on important topics like building our Missouri economy, creating more jobs for Missourians, and upholding laws that support background checks for those purchasing guns, so that our state and country might be just a little bit safer?  Instead, you focus on the observance of federal holidays?    

I truly do agree with you that “America is meant to be a land of freedom where we can express ourselves in the way we see fit,” but to spend your time fighting to mandate that we allow federal holidays to be discussed and taught in the public sector, who are you kidding?  Other than Christmas, which is a religious holiday? What other federal holiday is “banned” as you say from the public square?  Are you defending the right of teachers to teach about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Christopher Columbus?  I don’t know what schools or public places you have been in lately, but most of these holidays are being taught and talked about with our children.  Yes, Christmas, has been given a different status, but it has a different status, as it is a religious holiday. If I am not mistaken the First Amendment gives the freedom of religion and religious practice.  Federal holidays were not set out for the purpose of practice, rather they were established to allow federal workers and later other workers the opportunity to have paid leave on those days, whether or not one observed or practiced on that day.  

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I recognize that the majority of our country is Christian and celebrating Christmas, but please, to say that not teaching about or celebrating Christmas in the public square is an “infringement upon our rights that we should not tolerate,” is ridiculous.  What about when my child, who attends a public school, for which I am paying taxes, feels left out because the “holiday” musical only includes Christmas songs?  What about the large Christmas tree sitting in his school lobby?  Why does he have to be made to feel different?  Sure, the tree and the decorations are pretty, but why can’t these be reserved for someone’s home, someone’s private, personal celebration?  Shouldn’t all of Missouri’s children, in public schools, feel comfortable and safe at school?  If parents want to celebrate religious holidays at school then they have every right to send their children to private, parochial and/or religious schools.  Don’t force it on everyone!  

One of the beauties of our country is that it is “a melting pot” a place where freedom can be and is realized.  Our forefathers, with the establishment of our country and the First Amendment, provided the right, the freedom to worship and pray to God in whatever manner one so chooses.  

Ultimately, your letter and your law are not about the rights of us celebrating federal holidays.  I cannot imagine anyone who would argue with celebrating Thanksgiving, Independence Day, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, New Year’s Day, Columbus Day, Labor Day, MLK Day, and even Presidents’ Day.  Each one of these federal holidays has a special meaning in the history of our great nation.  These are days that already are observed and “celebrated” within our communities.  I understand that a large majority of our world, of our country, observes Christmas, but as a holiday, it is not an “American” holiday.  It is a religious holiday that celebrates something very specific, special, and holy to Christians, not to all Americans.  I can accept and understand that it was made a federal holiday for the purposes of ensuring that the government shut down when the majority were observing.  But its placement as a “federally –deemed holiday” was not about observance and celebration for all Americans in a public place, it was about giving paid leave so that those celebrating could do so without being penalized or losing pay.

As a Missourian, I am saddened that my legislature is spending time and energy on a bill that truly does not represent freedom for all.  Allowing for the celebration of “federally deemed holidays” does not make for a brighter future for Missourians, rather, this fight takes away from the important tasks for which you and your colleagues were sent to Jefferson City, to make this state as great and as wonderful as it can be.  Focus on growing our economy, creating more jobs, focus on healthcare, on education, focus on protecting the environment so that the beautiful landscape of Missouri will be here forever.

Feel free to wish me a “Merry Christmas,” it won’t offend me, but don’t take away my First Amendment right to not celebrate a “federally deemed holiday” and please don’t force my child or any child to feel uncomfortable in a place where he or she has every right to be and to feel accepted!  

I hope that you and the legislature will think about how in your defending the rights for some you have ignored the rights of others. 

Sincerely,

Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg