Dark Christianity
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May 2008
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School prayer gets a boost

LJ-SEC: (ORIGINALLY POSTED BY [info]exotic_princess)

House approves bill that would let students express faith on campus


AUSTIN — Legislation designed to give public school students opportunities to express religious viewpoints tentatively cleared the House on Monday despite warnings that it will have unintended consequences.

The bill would require school districts to adopt a policy allowing student speakers to express a religious perspective during limited public forums, such as football games, graduation ceremonies and school assemblies.

"This bill provides protection for students and school officials. Right now we have confusion in the schools about religious expression, and students are being discriminated against," said Rep. Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land, author of House Bill 3678.

Current law allows students to organize prayer groups, religious clubs and similar gatherings during the school day, and they must be given the same access to school facilities as other noncurricular groups.

Howard said his bill does not give students any new rights or take any away. But critics contend the expansion of student prayer at football games and other school-related activities would raise constitutional questions.

A separate bill that would make it easier for school districts to offer courses in the Bible is expected to reach the House floor soon.

The House voted 110-33 for the "Schoolchildren's Religious Liberties Act." The legislation will head to the Senate for consideration after a final House vote today.
If the Senate approves it, student leaders will be allowed to summon Jesus Christ in prayer to help calm student nerves before a TAKS test, Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, said of the hypothetical situation before voting against the measure.

Or, a student leader can call on Allah if he or she is a Muslim. Or, a student leader can tell other students that it's sacrilegious to pray to Jesus for comfort because "Jesus was not the son of God, Jesus was not the messiah," Hochberg told his colleagues, noting some discomfort in their facial reactions.

"And yet this is the serious religious viewpoint of a lot of people in this state, a lot of students in this state," said Hochberg, who is Jewish.

The legislation would require school districts to develop a neutral method for selecting students to speak at school events, and the policy could not discriminate against a student's religious expression.

A student who invokes Allah or who expresses a religious belief that disavows the mainstream Christian perspective "will throw communities into turmoil," Hochberg said.
Howard said legislation is needed to protect school districts from lawsuits costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend against allegations that schools violate a student's freedom of expression.

The legislation also would allow students to express religious beliefs in their homework, artwork or other assignments.

The leader of Texas Freedom Network contends the bill actually threatens the religious freedom of students.

"Under this legislation, students will be held captive to the expression of religious beliefs that they and their families may not share. Students will be able to promote their own religious views over everybody else's, placing schools in serious legal jeopardy," said Kathy Miller, president of the organization, which supports an agenda of religious freedom.

Houston school officials said they are reviewing the legislation to see if it could impact any of the current policies in the state's largest school system.
HISD follows federal laws on the subject, which say students don't shed their right to free speech while they're at school.

Chronicle reporter Jennifer Radcliffe contributed to this article from Houston