pencils_newWritten by Don Byrd

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley yesterday signed HB 1, the Alabama Student Religious Liberties Act, into law. The Act requires school districts to create student religious expression policies that guarantee a student’s religious viewpoint will not be subject to discrimination.The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution already protects students from discrimination on the basis of religion – including in their schoolwork, their clothing, their equal access to school facilities – and this law codifies many of those protections into state law.

So why pass this law at all if the Constitution already protects students in this way? That is a good question, and one many advocates are asking as similar bills are proposed around the country. Even those laws that offer unnecessary protections aren’t necessarily a good idea. To the extent that policies created pursuant to this law go beyond what the law authorizes, or educators and administrators interpret it in a way that goes beyond what the policy prescribes, laws like this can create as much controversy and uncertainty as it resolves. So stay tuned.

Many similar state bills, however, have gone further than protecting against student discrimination by attempting to opportunities for religious speech at official school events like graduation, football games, and assemblies. I’m looking at you, Tennessee. Alabama’s does not seem on first reading to go that far.

So for now, unless I am missing something – help me out with an email or tweet (@bjcblog) – the protections offered by Alabama’s HB 1 are already robustly guaranteed by the First Amendment’s Free Speech and Religious Freedom provisions. In other words, Alabamians, you can begin your weekend. Nothing much to see here.