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OVERVIEW WITH Q & A RELIGIOUS VIEWPOINTS ANTIDISCRIMINATION BILL

OVERVIEW:

Schools are not religion-free zones; school officials are not prayer-police; religious students are not enemies of the state; and the Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Bill (also known as the Schoolchildren’s Religious Liberties Bill) makes that clear.  The Bill provides much needed guidance for school officials who have sometimes felt compelled to quash students’ religious expressions for fear of lawsuits--even when such quashing itself is illegal.  The Bill pulls together Supreme Court rulings into a format that is accessible to the public and easy to understand and apply.  Houston attorney Joe Reynolds, a 16-year member of the Texas A&M Board of Regents, who has represented more school districts than any other attorney in the United States, said, “This is the best piece of legislation for school districts that has been introduced in the past 50 years.”

The legislation does not require or even suggest that any child ever express a prayer or any other type of religious viewpoint, it just protects them if they do.  Furthermore, the Bill does not presume that there will ever be a prayer or other religious viewpoint expressed by any student. 

The Bill is anti-discrimination legislation protecting students’ voluntary expressions of religious viewpoints, if any, to the same degree—no more and no less—as students’ voluntary expressions of secular or other viewpoints on otherwise permissible subjects and topics.  Religious children do not receive special rights, extra opportunity, preferential treatment or extra protection, just equal rights, equal opportunity, equal treatment and equal protection. 

RECENT EXAMPLES OF RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS INCLUDE:

  • A Superintendent announcing to the students that “if they prayed they would be disciplined the same as if they had cursed.”  The school then published speaking guidelines that said, “Prayers, blessings, invocations, and any reference to a deity are prohibited.”  A law suit ensued, a final judgment was entered against the school district.  (Ward v. Santa Fe);

  • In another public school, students were reprimanded for talking about Jesus during Easter;

  • One school banned children from wishing deployed troops a “Merry Christmas;”

  • One school forbid children from using religious messages on gifts or cards including references to “St. Valentine’s Day;”

  • One school forbid children from bringing Christmas items to a school’s “Winter Party” despite the acknowledgment of other faiths during the season;

  • In another public school, a teacher trashed two Bibles belonging to students, took the students to the principal and threatened to call Child Protective Services on the parents for letting their children bring Bibles to school;

  • In another public school, students were prevented from handing out candy-canes, when other candies were permitted, because candy-canes had a religious background;

 

[Coghlan is a Houston constitutional trial attorney and author of Those Dangerous Student Prayers.  He has represented 159 students and parents as amici curiae before the U.S. Supreme Court on faith-based issues, obtained the first federal injunction preventing censorship of a student’s voluntary public prayer in Ward v. Santa Fe I.S.D., and is the legal author of the Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act.  Website www.kellycoghlan.com.  The article’s contents are the personal opinions of the author and are not legal advice, warranties or representations]    ŠKC94-07

 

     
   
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