By Johnny Jackson
Schools in the area are saying “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” not because policy forbids it. Instead, it is just the considerate thing to do in a multi-cultural society, said some school officials.
There is no rule forcing either Clayton County or Henry County school systems to use one holiday greeting over the other. Even Clayton State University has no rule legislating what language is most appropriate when referring to holidays.
The non-policies may seem a bit surprising in lieu of recent controversy surrounding Wal-Mart's use of the words “Happy holidays” to replace the words "Merry Christmas" in its greetings. About two weeks ago, a Wal-Mart employee responded to a customer's e-mail complaint about why the company dropped the use of “Merry Christmas.” The employee returned the e-mail explaining that Christmas was a mix of world religions.
Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Fogleman said the contents of the e-mail did not represent the policies, practices, or views of the company. A company apology followed.
Bill Donohue, the president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, called the controversial apology “a sweet victory” for Christians and people of all faiths.
Such controversy has yet to befall the masses in Clayton and Henry county school systems. In fact, the school systems do not have policies governing the expression of religious holidays in schools.
There has been neither a policy nor an administrative rule governing religious holiday observances in Clayton County schools, said Charles White, Clayton County Schools spokesman.
White said that the inclusion of religious expressions in schools during the holidays is a school-based decision. That is, individual principals decide what constitutes appropriate religious expression in their schools.
Leigh Duncan, Clayton State spokeswoman, said that people at Clayton State are free as in any other public discourse to say, write, and express as they want within the rules of the law.
Clayton State, a member of the University System of Georgia, has no official rule of conduct regarding religious holiday observances.
“It's just a matter of good taste, I would say,” Duncan said. She said Clayton State affords a reason to be highly tolerant and considerate this time of year because it known for its cultural diversity.
Clayton and Henry counties are also diverse, according to a racial census in both school systems. Nearly 20 percent of students at Clayton County are non-white and non-black, and more than 44 percent of Henry County's student population is a racial minority.
School officials in both counties say diversity is designed into their curriculum. Preston Malcom said Henry County's curriculum includes studying religious holidays.
Malcom is the assistant superintendent of administrative services for Henry County. He said Henry County schools consider whether certain planned lessons of religions offend the separation of church and state doctrine. But incorporating religious holiday observances for study purposes is not a violation of church and state.
“Instruction on religious holidays is not used in the context of indoctrinating religion,” he said. “It is used in school curriculum to teach about cultures and history; there is a critical difference between teaching about religion and teaching religion.”
Until about 50 years ago, the general perception for people living in the United States was that everyone was Protestant Christian, said Kathryn Kemp, an assistant professor of American History at Clayton State.
“We do have to remember that we live in a country that contains many, many different cultures,” she said. “It's a matter of good manners to me; I believe we're careless about how we speak to people these days, and that matters.”
Wes Agnew is an associate pastor of business administration at First Baptist Church of Jonesboro. He said he embraces religious diversity, though he is fully committed to his own. He said he is glad to hear that Clayton and Henry county school systems have no stance either way on the issue of religious observance in schools.
But he regarded political correctness as being absent minded to “the reason for the season. It's all about Christ. That's the reason we have Christmas to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.”