Written by Don Byrd
A bill introduced in the Georgia Legislature purports to protect the religious freedom of students, teachers, and staff, but a primary motivation may be indicated in the name of the legislation itself.
The “Coach Small Religious Protection Act,” introduced in the Georgia Senate, was named for an East Coweta High School football coach recently in the news for praying alongside his team after games. A letter of complaint prompted school officials to issue a memo prohibiting school district employees from “participat[ing] in any student-initiated or student-led prayer or other worship while acting in their official capacity.”
The Newnan Times-Herald has a nice rundown of the bili’s contents. Here is an excerpt:
[SB 361] adds that employees can participate in voluntary student-initiated and student-led prayer when invited to do so by students, “provided that the participation is in the faculty’s or employee’s personal capacity and not as a representative of the school.” Employees are also allowed to wear religious clothing and decorate their desks with religious symbols.
Of course, as quoted above, the school district’s memo does not restrict employee’s activities when acting in their personal capacities. It explicitly contemplates their actions “while acting in their official capacity” as school representatives.
More significantly, as the news report suggests, SB 361 is a sweeping piece of legislation, broadly addressing religious expression in the public school context, and impacting many more circumstances than athletic events, despite the bill’s title. Other states have passed similar legislation in response to complaints that somehow religious freedom has diminished in public schools (nothing could be further from the truth).
The bill has been sent to a Senate committee. Stay tuned.