Written by Don Byrd
As I posted earlier, the Tennessee House recently passed a bill that purports to protect student religious freedoms at school. Specifically, the proposal would bar discrimination against student religious speech, including religious content in schoolwork. That doesn’t sound so bad, right? Fortunately, such equality of expression is already well-protected by the First Amendment, and enshrined in Education Department guidelines.
Unfortunately, the TN bill goes further. In an op-ed in yesterday’s Tennessean, ACLU-TN Director Hedy Weinberg explains:
Public school students have the right to be free from coerced participation in religious activity. But SB 1793/HB 1547 would allow student prayer at official school graduations, assemblies and other events where students are a captive audience. When a prayer is delivered as part of an official school event, the unmistakable implication is that the school approves of the religious message, even if the prayer is delivered by a student.
Instead of promoting religious freedom, this legislation seems to undermine that essential liberty by inviting officials to violate the separation of church and state.