Bill aimed at giving students more religious expression

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A bill filed for this year’s legislative session is aimed at giving students the rights to more religious expression.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Mack Butler, R-Rainbow City, and would create the Alabama Student Religious Liberties Act of 2015.

“This bill would prohibit school districts from discriminating against a student or parent on the basis of a religious viewpoint or religious expression in public schools,” the bill reads.

As part of the bill, school districts would be required to allow religious expression in class assignments, coursework and artwork.

It would also require districts to provide students with the freedom to organize religious groups and activities.

School would need to adopt and implement a policy regarding voluntary student expression of religious viewpoints.

“Students in public schools may pray or engage in religious activities or religious expression before, during, and after the school day in the same manner and to the same extent that students may engage in non-religous activities or expressions,” the bill reads.

Prayer and Bible reading in schools that was officially sanctioned was struck down by the United State Supreme Court in the early 1960s.

Student-led religious activities have been permitted as long as they do not disrupt the classroom.

Opponents of the bill have called it redundant citing a 2000 memorandum from then-Attorney General Bill Pryor stating student-initiated religious expressions were OK.

Locally, Opp City Schools Superintendent Michael Smithart said he had not personally read Butler’s bill, but the system has specific policies regarding religious expressions.

“We have very specific policies already in place that provide opportunities for our students to initiate and participate in expression of religious belief,” he said. “Non-curriculum related students organizations have the same opportunity to use school facilities as any other student organization, regardless of religion, political, philosophical or other content of the speech at such meetings, subject to the right and obligation of the board to maintain order and discipline on school premises and to protect the well-being of students and faculty.”