Religious conservatives are at it again. Tennessee governor Bill Haslam just received and will likely sign a bill that not only allows but actually helps organize anti-gay bullying in the name of “religious freedom.”
The Tennessee “Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act” allows students to use religion in any manner they choose, and mandates that their use of religion be protected.
At a basic level, a student could merely write “God” on a chemistry test as the answer to a question asking to 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 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.”
Creationists of course will love the bill.
But the more sinister part of the bill forces all students to be subjected to the religious beliefs of the popular kids.
The ACLU warns that the bill, SB 1793/HB 1547, “crosses the line from protecting religious freedom into creating systematic imposition of some students’ personal religious viewpoints on other students.”
Tennessee’s “Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act” actually mandates that schools allow students the use of public school facilities — including the school’s public address system, classrooms and school assemblies — and makes schools “[p]rovide the forum in a manner that does not discriminate against a student’s voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint.”
An evangelical student, or example, could preach the gospel during a science class, or “witness” during English. Attacks on LGBT people and same-sex marriage are automatically protected under this bill, offering anti-gay students a state-sposored license to bully. And of course, a student could claim they worship Satan and subject their classmates to that “religious viewpoint” as well.
The bill, of course, likely violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, but that rarely stops conservative lawmakers on a religious mission.
“Should this pass, 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,” the ACLU warns. “Conversely, if a student of a minority religious faith (e.g., a Buddhist, a Wiccan, etc.) or a non-believer were to obtain a ‘position of honor,’ as defined under this bill, that student would be permitted to subject all classmates to prayer and proselytizing specific to his or her faith tradition in connection with school events. In both cases, parents would have no recourse to ensure that their children were not coerced into such religious exercise.”
Republican governor Bill Haslam hopefully will show moral courage and veto this bill. If he signs it, he’ll be forcing all Tennessee students to be subjected to the religious beliefs of their classmates, and forcing Tennessee into a costly battle in court.
But given that the Tennessee senate passed the bill yesterday on a 32-0 vote, and the House passed it 90-2, any veto Haslam considers likely will be overridden.
Tennessee is not alone. Oklahoma is in the process of passing its own “Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act,” and Texas, of course, already has one.
Image via Flickr.
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