After more than a week spent fighting with her administration, and duking it out in court, early Friday morning, Killeen ISD staffer Dedra Shannon put her Christmas sign back up at Patterson Middle School.
“She's been courageous and faithful and from the beginning said this is important,” says Shannon’s lawyer, Texas Values’ Jonathan Saenz.
The sign at the heart of the debate had a phrase from the 1964 cartoon movie, “A Charlie Brown Christmas”.
“We are not aware of one single staff member, student, or anyone other than the principal that ordered it down that suggested they were offended or there was a problem with it,” says Saenz who was with Shannon when she restored the sign.
Charles E. Patterson Middle School Principal Kara Trevino ordering the nurse’s aide to take the sign down or the word “Christ” out of it . Trevino said it was because of the separation “church and state”.
Hours before the school board met on Tuesday night Saenz and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sent separate letters to the district.
“We offered the school district our advice and we offered to represent them but it was refused” Paxton says in an exclusive interview with Fox 7, adding, “and they voted no and they refused this woman's rights.”
In their letters Saenz and Paxton both clarified The First Amendment and Texas' Merry Christmas law, passed and signed in 2013, when Paxton was a State Representative.
“The goal of that bill wasn't just to protect Christmas,” he says, “but to protect all religious holidays, it's to protect religious freedom.”
The Killeen ISD Board of Trustees ultimately voted 6-1 to ban Shannon's sign. Saenz sued the district late Wednesday afternoon. General Paxton following with a suit on top of that, filed Thursday, intervening on behalf of the state.
“In my opinion,” says Paxton, “they are getting bad legal advice from their lawyers, I don't know if that is happening across the state but it certainly was in this case.”
In an emergency hearing late Thursday, Bell County Judge Jack Jones agreed. Jones ordered the sign restored with the words, “Ms. Shannon's Christmas Message” added to it.
“To be able to be there and to serve Ms. Shannon and to be there,” says Saenz, adding, “at just the right time without a whole lot of time to spare was something I'll never forget.”
And something that both he and General Paxton hope that moving forward school district's across the state don't forget either?
“We’re here to help,” says Paxton, adding, “we want to resolve this as easy as possible and we are going to give them the advice that we think is right under the constitution of the law and hopefully in the future we can have these resolved without litigation.”
Killeen ISD Administrative officials sent the following statement to Fox 7, on Thursday after Judge Jones’ ruling:
“Christmas and winter celebrations and messages are important to our community. The board's actions taken on Tuesday directing district administration to develop guidelines for employees underscore the board's commitment to this effort. Despite these efforts we found ourselves in court this afternoon.
Bell County 146th District Court ruled in order for the door covering to be displayed at Charles Patterson Middle School, the following text must be added in letters as large as the other letters. "Ms. Shannon's Christmas Message."
No other relief was granted
We believe that directing the individual to include the additional text better complies with state and federal law. We support this decision.”
Saenz and Killeen ISD's lawyers are scheduled to head back to court on January 6th. Both Saenz and General Paxton say they hope to work something out with the district before then so that employees don't have the same problems moving forward. If not, they say their lawsuits will continue to make their way through the court.