www.mozilla.com Weather Central
Voices
Headlines

Running for the wrong bus -7/28/2014, 9:04 AM

Old Old Mexico -- Culture and content -7/28/2014, 9:03 AM

The defining issue of economic recovery -7/27/2014, 4:53 PM

In a world of sectarian violence, what can be done? -7/27/2014, 4:53 PM

Funding DHDC -7/27/2014, 1:18 PM

Endorsement for Shultz -7/25/2014, 3:28 PM

Against the wind -7/25/2014, 4:23 PM

Do blacks need favors? -7/25/2014, 4:23 PM

Vote Huelskamp out -7/25/2014, 4:23 PM

Open meetings -7/24/2014, 8:07 AM

Leadership change needed -7/24/2014, 8:07 AM

Vote for Huelskamp -7/24/2014, 8:06 AM

Protecting unborn children -7/24/2014, 8:06 AM

Learning experience valuable -7/24/2014, 8:06 AM

False equivalence -7/23/2014, 8:07 AM

Measles' scary comeback -7/23/2014, 1:27 PM

The 'big data' deal -7/23/2014, 10:07 AM

GOP can't get out of its own way -7/23/2014, 10:07 AM

War only will add to Middle East problems -7/22/2014, 8:10 AM

Avoiding taxes -7/22/2014, 8:10 AM

Take the win in Iran -7/21/2014, 8:57 AM

The high court's high-handedness -7/21/2014, 8:57 AM

Up in arms in the Capitol -7/20/2014, 4:52 PM

Firefighters weigh in on pay raise -7/20/2014, 4:52 PM

Backpacks for Kids -7/20/2014, 4:52 PM

Our unwillingness to defend ourselves -7/18/2014, 10:51 AM

Remembering a man who championed freedom -7/18/2014, 10:51 AM

GOP split -7/17/2014, 8:38 AM

New Kansas senator -7/17/2014, 8:37 AM

Who'll build the roads? -7/17/2014, 8:37 AM

Reagan: In or out? -7/16/2014, 2:45 PM

'Unbroken' WWII vet more than a hero -7/16/2014, 2:44 PM

Savor the fruits of your labor -7/16/2014, 2:44 PM

Erasing candidate's standards -7/15/2014, 11:36 AM

Returning to Trail Wood -7/15/2014, 10:13 AM

Leaving some in 'suspense' -7/15/2014, 10:13 AM

Strangers in a remarkable land -7/14/2014, 9:11 AM

Courageous or spineless? Our actions decide -7/14/2014, 9:11 AM

Ambition: An unlikely gift to Kansas voters -7/13/2014, 11:16 AM

Beyond the outrage -7/13/2014, 11:16 AM

Water watch -7/13/2014, 11:16 AM

Scenic outlooks -7/11/2014, 9:18 AM

China's research trumps teaching -7/11/2014, 9:17 AM

Important slow news -7/10/2014, 9:42 AM

We've got a promise to keep -7/10/2014, 9:33 AM

The white combine calls -7/9/2014, 10:02 AM

Vote for family values -7/9/2014, 10:02 AM

Politicians making a mockery of my faith -7/9/2014, 10:02 AM

Missing tribute -7/9/2014, 10:02 AM

Rural students deserve 21st Century education -7/8/2014, 9:10 AM

The education table dance -7/8/2014, 9:10 AM

A new virus -7/8/2014, 9:10 AM

Government as God -7/7/2014, 9:38 AM

EPA affecting others -7/7/2014, 9:38 AM

'Narrow' decision from the narrow-minded -7/7/2014, 9:38 AM

The tax trap -7/6/2014, 4:35 PM

Rulings produce 'First Amendment fireworks' -7/6/2014, 4:35 PM

Firefighter salaries -7/6/2014, 4:35 PM

Economic freedom -7/4/2014, 11:54 AM

Protecting our independence -7/4/2014, 11:54 AM

Dan Johnson, 1936-2014 -7/3/2014, 7:12 AM

New Iraq offensive backfires -7/3/2014, 7:11 AM

Setting things straight -7/3/2014, 7:11 AM

'Crapitalism' -7/3/2014, 7:11 AM

Feeding peace throughout the world -7/2/2014, 9:01 AM

Half way is still only half way -7/2/2014, 9:01 AM

Sherow a better choice -7/2/2014, 9:01 AM

Fireworks, part II -7/2/2014, 9:01 AM

Reality show made in Topeka -7/1/2014, 8:53 AM

The justices and their cellphones -7/1/2014, 8:53 AM

LOB defeated -7/1/2014, 8:53 AM

Tragedy explored in 'Broken Heart Land' -6/30/2014, 9:14 AM

Mexico City: The adventure continues -6/30/2014, 9:14 AM

Even our youngest Americans are citizens -6/29/2014, 12:58 PM

Ban on fireworks -6/29/2014, 12:58 PM

It's time to teach active citizenship -6/29/2014, 12:57 PM

The education establishment's success -6/27/2014, 10:39 AM

Piecework professors -6/27/2014, 10:39 AM

Marriage for all -6/27/2014, 10:39 AM

Prairie chicken madness -6/26/2014, 4:17 PM

Omission control -6/26/2014, 10:12 AM

Equal in the eyes of the law -6/26/2014, 10:12 AM

Help wanted -6/26/2014, 10:12 AM

The old red barn -6/25/2014, 9:19 AM

Beware the unimaginable -6/25/2014, 9:19 AM

Early critic of school testing was right -6/24/2014, 8:53 AM

Finding something 'different' in Topeka -6/24/2014, 8:53 AM

Shopping small -6/24/2014, 8:53 AM

Into the classroom -6/23/2014, 8:55 AM

Wow! And thanks to you -6/23/2014, 8:55 AM

Fireworks double-standard -6/23/2014, 8:55 AM

Glass half full -6/22/2014, 5:57 PM

Brownback's experiment wallops taxpayers -6/22/2014, 5:56 PM

Examining the importance of 'where' we speak -6/22/2014, 5:56 PM

Slavery reparations -6/20/2014, 8:33 AM

'Help me plagiarize' -6/20/2014, 8:33 AM

Thank a farmer -6/20/2014, 8:33 AM

Here comes tomorrow -6/19/2014, 8:43 AM

Why Americans dislike soccer -6/19/2014, 8:43 AM

Switching to teaching -6/18/2014, 4:32 PM

myTown Calendar

SPOTLIGHT
[var top_story_head]

Are 'religious viewpoint' laws needed in schools?

Published on -4/6/2014, 2:11 PM

Printer-friendly version
E-Mail This Story

Remember the hue and cry last fall when a Tennessee teacher told a fifth-grader she couldn't write about God as the person she admired most?

Well, members of the state legislature didn't forget. Even though school officials quickly corrected the teacher and apologized to the family, lawmakers seized on the incident to push for a bill designed to protect student religious expression in public schools.

Last week, the "Religious Viewpoints Anti-discrimination Act" passed both houses of the Tennessee legislature by huge margins and now awaits the governor's signature.

Sometimes all it takes is one bad story.

Tennessee's new legislation is the latest of a series of almost identical laws pushed nationwide by conservative Christian groups in recent years. Texas, Mississippi and South Carolina already have enacted this legislation, and bills are pending in Oklahoma, Georgia, Alabama and other states.

The ostensible aim of all these laws is to protect the right of public school students to express their religious views in class, assemblies and graduation ceremonies. As the Tennessee bill puts it, schools "may not discriminate against the student based on a religious viewpoint expressed by the student on an otherwise permissible subject."

Actually, this is nothing new. The U.S. Department of Education issued guidelines in 2003 outlining the religious rights of students -- guidelines quoted verbatim in these state laws. Much of what is in the USDOE guidance tracks what is allowed under current law, according to most legal experts.

It widely is accepted, for example, students have the right to express their religious views in homework, artwork, and class discussions -- as long, of course, as they fulfill the requirements of the assignment and their comments are relevant to the subject under consideration. No new law is needed to make this clear.

What is disputed, however, is where to draw the line on student religious expression before a captive audience at school-sponsored events. We know from various Supreme Court decisions that public schools might not promote religious beliefs at school events -- even if they select a student to deliver the religious message.

But the USDOE and the state "religious viewpoint" laws assert when students are given the opportunity to speak without school officials controlling the content of the speech, then such expression is not school sponsored and might not be restricted because of its religious content. Call it a "free speech" moment during which a student can talk about faith or even offer a prayer.

Critics contend the USDOE guidance (and the state laws that echo it) go too far because lower courts are divided about where school officials can draw the line on student religious speech before a captive audience. Moreover, they argue, speech at school-sponsored events remains school-sponsored, even when school officials don't review the content of student speeches.

Turning the podium over to students, of course, can be a risky business. Although the "religious viewpoint" laws would not require school officials to allow speech that was profane, sexually explicit, defamatory or disruptive, the student speech could include political or religious views offensive to many.

Conservative Christian groups promoting these laws appear willing to take that risk, gambling religious speech they like will be heard far more often than religious (or anti-religious) speech they don't like.

In fact, lawmakers in Tennessee and other states are hedging their bets by requiring schools to create a pool of "student leaders" -- student council officers, football team captains and the like -- from which the school-event speakers will be chosen. Even if limiting the selection process in this way is constitutional (and that remains an open question), it surely signals the "open forum" isn't so open after all.

The bigger problem with these laws, however, is not so much the content but the potential for abuse. In communities where one religion dominates, school officials might view these laws as a doorway to promote the majority faith -- doing through students what the school can not do itself.

If public schools actually would let all students (not just the designated "leaders") speak freely at school events, then free speech, religious and non-religious, might be well-served.

But as written, these laws appear aimed at encouraging student religious expression that will be popular in states such as Tennessee and Texas. After all, in most of these school districts, people aren't too worried about what the football captain will say (or pray).

Charles C. Haynes is director of Religious Freedom Center of Newseum Institute,

Washington.

chaynes@newseum.org

digg delicious facebook stumbleupon google Newsvine
More News and Photos

Associated Press Videos

AP Breaking News
AP Nation-World News

View this site in another language.