Merry Hyatt has found allies in her quest to put an initiative on the ballot next year requiring public schools to play Christmas carols.
Hyatt, who moved to Redding four months ago, said she joined the Redding Tea Party Patriots and recruited several members to help her collect the 433,971 signatures needed by March 29.
Hyatt said she has partnered with a couple of churches in Redding and one in Wildomar in Southern California to collect signatures. All the signature pages must be turned in together to the Shasta County registrar, she said.
The initiative would require schools to provide children the opportunity to listen to or perform Christmas carols, and would subject the schools to litigation if the rule isn't followed.
Schools currently are allowed to offer Christmas music as long as it is used for academic purposes rather than devotional purposes and isn't used to promote a particular religious belief, according to an analysis by the California Legislative Analyst's Office.
"Bottom line is Christmas is about Christmas," said Erin Ryan, president of the Redding Tea Party Patriots. "That's why we have it. It's not about winter solstice or Kwanzaa. It's like, 'wow you guys, it's called Christmas for a reason.' "
Ryan said Hyatt's initiative falls under the umbrella of causes the group supports, which concern limited government, following the constitution and fiscal responsibility.
But some groups say the initiative represents quite the opposite.
"I have two words to say about Ms. Hyatt's proposal: blatantly unconstitutional," said Rob Boston, senior policy analyst for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which is based in Washington, D.C., and has a local chapter in Sacramento.
Boston said he heard about the initiative in the news, which isn't surprising considering national newspapers such as The New York Times have published articles on Hyatt's efforts.
"In the unlikely event she got enough signatures to put it on the ballot and the even more unlikely event California passed it, it would be struck down by the courts," Boston said. "The courts have been very clear that public schools aren't supposed to be in the business of promoting or advocating religion."
Boston said he thinks Hyatt's initiative represents a larger issue of religious conservatives being unhappy with the changes resulting from American society becoming more diverse.
"The frustration some religious conservatives have is they want a mythological religious America that probably never existed," he said.
Hyatt, a substitute teacher who moved to Redding from Riverside, said her motivation for the initiative was to help restore children's moral compasses by inviting Jesus to school Christmas parties.
"He's the prince of peace; he's the only one who can get these kids to stop being so violent," she said in November.
Hyatt said she believes it is Americans' First Amendment right to worship.
"It's our right to have freedom to worship," she said. "That's why we came to this country. They came to be Christians and they're trying to take that away. They're out of line; we're not."
Boston said he believes proponents of Hyatt's initiative have unrealistic expectations.
"They're looking to the public schools system or the government to provide them a religious experience at Christmas," he said. "If you want a full-throttle religious Christmas experience, it's at church ... there's no shortage of those."
Nothing says smaller government and respect for the Constitution than forcing schools to play Christmas carols! Also, freedom OF religion also means freedom FROM religion, lady.