Bill Raises Serious First Amendment Concerns
April 3, 2014
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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NASHVILLE – In an effort to protect the religious freedom of public school students, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee today sent a letter to Governor Bill Haslam urging him to veto Tennessee’s "Religious Viewpoints Anti-Discrimination Act." This legislation unconstitutionally encourages public school-sponsored religion in schools.
"Despite its name, this legislation crosses the line from protecting religious freedom into creating systematic imposition of some students’ personal religious views on other students," said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN executive director. "Our schools have enough to do to prepare our children academically. The teaching of religion should be done at home or in a faith community. We are asking Governor Haslam to veto this bill to ensure that Tennessee schools are moving forward, welcoming all students and preserving their religious freedom."
SB 1793/HB 1547 states that students in public schools may engage in religious expression to the same extent that they engage in non-religious expression and that they may form religious clubs to the same extent that they may form non-religious clubs. The legislation also requires schools to allow student prayer and religious speech at official school events such as graduations, assemblies and sporting events.
ACLU-TN’s letter explains that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, the Tennessee Constitution, and federal and state laws already protect student religious expression. ACLU-TN’s states that "While the first part of SB 1793/HB 1547 is simply unnecessary and confusing, the second part actually invites schools to violate students’ right to be free from coerced participation in religious activity. The bill would require schools to allow student prayer at official school events such as graduations, assemblies, and sporting events, where students are a captive audience."
The letter urges Governor Haslam to veto SB 1793/HB 1547 because "For many Tennesseans, the freedom to exercise our faith free from government intrusion is and always has been central to our daily lives."
A copy of ACLU-TN’s letter urging Governor Haslam to veto the "Religious Viewpoints Anti-Discrimination Act" can be found here.