Both chambers of the General Assembly were scheduled to vote on Rep. Andy Holt’s Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act Monday afternoon.
But both chambers rolled the legislation. House Bill 3616 was rolled to Monday, April 16, in the House of Representatives, while Senate Bill 3632 was rolled to Wednesday, April 18, in the Senate.
If passed into law, the bill would “prohibit an LEA from discriminating against a student based on a religious viewpoint expressed by the student on an otherwise permissible subject.”
Holt said Monday afternoon that he brought the bill after being contacted by Greg Barker, a member of the McKenzie Special School District’s Board of Education in Carroll County and the youth pastor at his church.
“He brought this legislation forward and gave it to me as something to consider,” Holt said. “After reading the information he supplied, I thought it was a very, very important piece of legislation and decided to move forward with passage.”
This bill would require every board of education in the state to adopt “a policy that includes the establishment of a limited public forum for student speakers at any school event at which a student is to publicly speak.”
It also would require the local education agency (LEA) to treat a student’s voluntary expression of his or her religious viewpoints in the same way the LEA would treat a secular or other viewpoint.
Holt said the bill differs greatly from the Student Religious Liberty Act and Teachers Religious Liberty Act passed in the late 1990s by the General Assembly.
“The primary difference is that it gives students a limited public forum that allows them the opportunity [to speak],” Holt said, adding that currently some school districts currently allow it and some do not.
The Republican from Dresden stressed that he does not think that the reason between the discrepancies in school policies is because the boards do not want to allow the students to speak about their faith, but rather it’s that they are afraid of lawsuits if they do.
“It gives the LEA themselves an opportunity to make a disclaimer that the words of this student are not an expression of the LEA; they are simply the religious viewpoint of the student. The LEA is not held liable for the student’s expression of faith.”
The bill provides a model policy for selecting which students may speak at school events and graduation ceremonies based on a “neutral criteria.” Boards may follow the policy in the bill or adopt a similar policy, but any changes must follow the “neutral criteria.”
Holt said grades provide neutral ground and do not discriminate in regards to religious viewpoints.