Legislators in Tennessee passed a law on Tuesday protecting the rights of religious students in the state’s schools to discriminate against others so long as they are doing so for reasons of faith.
The New Civil Rights Movement blog reported Wednesday that the “Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act” enshrines students’ right to use religion in any way they choose, even if that means expressing condemnation of their classmates, such as LGBT students or atheists.
The bill arrived on Gov. Bill Haslam (R)’s desk Wednesday and awaits his signature to be ratified into law.
David Badash at NCRM wrote, “The bill states ‘a student may express beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions. A student would not be penalized or rewarded on account of the religious content of the student’s work.’”
“At a basic level,” Badash wrote, “a student could merely write ‘God’ on a chemistry test as the answer to a question asking where water comes from. A student could also stand in class and say their religion says that gay people are sinners and going to hell, and that speech would be legally protected.”
The American Civil Liberties Union warned on its website that the law opens up a host of possible unintended consequences.
“While purporting to prevent discrimination against students expressing religious viewpoints, SB 1793/HB 1547 crosses the line from protecting religious freedom into creating systematic imposition of some students’ personal religious viewpoints on other students,” said the ACLU.
The bill also provides for a student speaker program, in which students of faith are chosen by local school boards to address their classmates in what the ACLU called “a variety of inappropriate settings, from the classroom to school-day assemblies and school events.”
As a result, “students with a range of religious beliefs, as well as non-believers, would likely routinely be required to listen to religious messages or participate in religious exercises that conflict with their own beliefs.”
“Public schools,” said the ACLU, “are not Sunday schools.”
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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