The state of Texas has passed a law to ostensibly protect students who express their personal religious views while at school.
Critics have pointed out that the first amendment already covers this.
From the Houston Chronicle:
The new law’s supporters say it will protect students who, for example, write about their faith in homework, distribute religious items to other students and even wish our troops overseas “Merry Christmas.” Yet courts have consistently reined in the few overzealous school officials who have improperly restricted such activities.
After all, the First Amendment clearly protects the right to religious expression for all, including students. But what binds our diverse nation together is the principle that the government should never be used to favor one faith over all others. The First Amendment protects that principle. This new law weakens it.
The law mandates that schools turn public events, such as morning announcements and football games, into so-called “limited public forums.” Student speakers are then permitted to use those events to promote their own religious beliefs or even attempt to convert their fellow students.
I’m skeptical of this law, and any law that claims to provide MORE freedoms. It doesn’t seem to work that way.
The principle at stake is not hard to understand. One member of Houston’s legislative delegation has already demonstrated it.
During the last legislative session, Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston walked off the Senate floor when a Muslim imam opened the day with a prayer. A Christian, Patrick claimed his presence would have implied an endorsement of religious beliefs he does not share.
Students, on the other hand, cannot leave a school function at which their presence is required. If a speaker uses a school event to evangelize, the school will not be a neutral actor. It will be forcing all students to participate in a function that promotes religious views they and their families may not share.
Consider some scenarios. When a Wiccan student council president closes morning announcements each day with a prayer to the Mother Goddess, will Christian families object? What happens when the captain of the football team decides to use his pep rally speech to mock the faith of opposing players and, potentially, the faith of some students in his own school? Under this law, the hands of school officials are tied.
I’m curious what would happen. What would they do? Their hands may be tied, but I doubt that would stop them from exerting pressure. It will be interesting to see it play out. For now we can be optimistic and hope that this will allow more free expression of Pastafarianism.
The Chronicle article is very good and can be found here.