Urge Governor To Protect Student Free Speech Rights!

By

March 10, 2014

The General Assembly recently passed SB 236, a priority for The Family Foundation that protects the rights of public school students to express their faith at various school events. The House of Delegates passed the bill by a vote of 64-34.  Earlier this session the bill passed the Virginia Senate 20-18.

The bill is now awaiting action by Governor Terry McAuliffe. Unfortunately, the governor has indicated that he is likely to veto this reasonable legislation that simply ensures that religious speech is treated by our public schools exactly like any other type of speech.

Please contact Governor McAuliffe and urge him to sign SB 236, protecting the free speech rights of public school students!

Hostility to simply expressing one’s faith in the public square is becoming more and more prevalent. A student in our public schools shouldn’t be treated as a second class citizen simply because their viewpoint is motivated by their faith, regardless of what faith perspective they have. And while some opponents to the bill argue that such speech is already protected, they also argue that allowing students to express their faith could be seen as “coercive” and “offensive” to those who don’t share that faith. In such cases, the government is supposed to be “neutral,” but those who oppose bills like SB 236 desire no such neutrality. They desire silencing of faith perspectives and adherence to secular dogma.

Recently, my piece explaining why SB 236 is necessary and what it actually does appeared in The Norfolk Virginian-Pilot.

The bill, patroned by Senator Bill Carrico (R-40, Galax), is based on federal court precedent and existing law in at least two other states. Opposition comes primarily from the ACLU and the education establishment.

Please contact Governor McAuliffe and urge him to sign SB 236, protecting the free speech rights of public school students!

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6 Responses to “Urge Governor To Protect Student Free Speech Rights!”

  1. M Mirabelle says:

    This bill is simply a ruse to open the door for fundamentalist Christians to use public school graduations and sports events as a public government platform to proclaim their personal religious beliefs on the public.

    Why? Because the first part of the bill (which allows kids to have religious clubs and wear religious apparel in public school) is already established law. It’s being used as a Trojan Horse to slip into law the second part of the bill (which allows religious speech at public school assemblies) which is unconstitutional.

    Public school kids already have solid Constitutional protections allowing them to express their faith in a wide variety of ways at school. It’s been this way for decades, provided it remain student-led and separate from the schools’ adult governance. What students can’t to do is use a public school forum such as a graduation assembly or sporting event for such speech, because those types of events are official school-wide sponsored events and are, therefore, connected their schools’ adult-led governance, so church-state separations apply.

    To cater to far-right-wing religious fundamentalists, Virginia lawmakers are trying to dismantle this separation by allowing kids to talk about fundamentalist Protestant Christianity at your child’s graduation, regardless of whether or not you care to hear about it that evening. Chances are many delegates know this and actually don’t really approve of the bill even though they voted yes. They know it’ll be vetoed so they don’t personally want to go on the record opposing it.

    But beware, fundamentalist Christians! This also opens the door to allowing kids to hijack graduation night from your family in order to promote their own beliefs in radical Islam, hard-core atheism, or how their gay parents found true happiness in Jesus by leaving Pat Robertson’s version of the faith and creating their own new version that was all-inclusive. Do you want that as part of your kid’s graduation night? Because that’s what you’re saying when you support this bill.

    As life-long believers in the saving grace of Jesus Christ, and in kids constitutional rights to speak of such things in public school freely from government interloping, we applaud Gov. McAulliff for vetoing this unconstitutional bill.

    Besides, Christians have the Church as the Christ-given vehicle for proclaiming the faith. Why do fundamentalist Christians think they need the public schools and the government to do this? Do they think the Church isn’t good enough? Do they think they know better than Jesus Himself?

    Rather than support this bogus bill, The Family Foundation should launch a public service campaign informing public school administrators, school boards, parents and kids about the many strong Constitutional free-speech rights that students already have protecting their religious speech in public school.

    • Juanita says:

      A very interesting and thought provoking viewpoint. I certainly don’t want to open the doors any further than they already are for highjacking. Thank you for your response.

  2. kate says:

    Would you care to elaborate where exactly in the Constitution it says allowing religious speech at public school assemblies and sporting events, or graduations is unconstitutional?

  3. Wings says:

    It doesn’t, but that won’t stop those who want to take away the freedom of speech from the rest of us.

    To quote Victoria Cobb:
    “SB 236 is an anti-discrimination bill written to protect students’ voluntary expressions of faith-based viewpoints to the same degree (no more, and no less) as students’ voluntary expressions of secular viewpoints on otherwise permissible subjects and topics that students are already being permitted to discuss.

    The bill doesn’t give religious viewpoints special rights, just equal rights. It doesn’t give religious viewpoints special protection, just equal protection. It doesn’t give religious viewpoints preferential treatment, just equal treatment. it doesn’t give religious viewpoints a leg up, just equal footing.

    This law is necessary because of the misunderstanding some have over the First Amendment rights of public school students. While most teachers and administrators respect those rights, some may be confused and fear that allowing voluntary expression could be a violation of the Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court.

    While there are certainly a few teachers and administrators who are hostile to religious expression, the vast majority are not but may become misguided by the folk interpretations of the First Amendment that are so prevalent in our culture. Too many may simply be intimidated by the idea that allowing any expression of faith in public schools is unconstitutional and act accordingly.

    But the “better safe than sorry” policy is a violation of the rights of public school students and makes children of any faith, whether Islam, Judaism, Christianity or any other, second-class citizens. And while opponents claim the legislation is some nefarious attempt at reinserting prayer into schools, nothing in Senate Bill 236 actively encourages prayer, Bible reading or any other religious speech.

    The bill simply allows those who wish to discuss religious topics the same speaking opportunity that is already provided to those with secular viewpoints, thus ending discrimination against people of faith. That legitimate purpose is widely understood, which is why similar legislation has already passed in two other states and is being considered in several others.

    The courts have made a clear distinction between voluntary prayer and speech and “endorsed” prayer and speech, and this bill follows those distinctions and clarifies for Virginia public school officials what is allowed.

    In 2008, legislation passed the General Assembly and was signed into law by then-Gov. Tim Kaine that provided protections for students who wished to express their faith in classroom assignments. Some of the same arguments used today by opponents to SB 236 were also used in 2008, but Kaine was able to put the policy and students ahead of partisan politics and signed the legislation into law.

    SB 236 is modeled after the same law from which Virginia adopted the classroom protections in 2008. It is an important policy, based entirely on current Supreme Court precedent and follows model legislation that already exists.

    Regardless of one’s faith, or lack thereof, the free expression of a religious viewpoint is a principle embedded in American law and culture.

    Public school students are and should be perfectly free to express their beliefs within the walls of their school, when appropriate, and on equal footing with their counterparts. SB 236 simply ensures that Virginia law is reflective of that principle and the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings that guide it.”

    Now M Mirabelle probably knows this but like her response says, she is just lying to get her political point across as she claims the VA Democratic lawmakers who voted for this bill are:
    ” many delegates know this and actually don’t really approve of the bill even though they voted yes.”

    I prefer that Virginia follow the guidance and rulings of the US Supreme Court rather than the viewpoints of a few dishonest PC police types. Tell the CarpetBagger to pass the bill as written.

  4. […] Urge Governor To Protect Student Free Speech Rights! […]

  5. Gov. McAuliffe, Please sigh the bill for free speech rights of public schools students. Christians should have the same rights as anyone else to express there beliefs

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