Perfect Timing

One of our highest priorities this past General Assembly session was HB 1135, which protects religious liberty in education. The bill was patroned by Delegate William Fralin (R-17, Roanoke) and it passed easily, including a 39-1 vote in the Senate. Governor Tim Kaine made a minor amendment which was approved during the veto session last month. The bill takes effect July 1. This victory, along with one of our highest priorities for the 2007 session, a religious liberty bill protecting religious expression in public venues, patroned by Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R-31, Woodbridge), which also was signed into law, make significant progress toward protecting our constitutional rights from their erosion by authoritarian educrats and activist judges. I know, I know. We're extremists and alarmists with such hyperbole. At least that's what the usual suspects always claim. Okay. So is this recent case in Wisconsin hyperbole?

From (click the excerpt for the entire story):

School officials in Tomah, Wisconsin, are facing a lawsuit after a high school teacher there failed a student's art project because it included a cross and a reference to John 3:16. The school district argues that the student voluntarily waived his First Amendment religious freedoms when he entered the classroom.

Funny, no one ever taught me the Constitution ended at the school door. I'm pretty sure Mr. Madison would be appalled. HB 1135 specifically defends students' rights to include religious content in academic assignments. Not only that, it brings the code of Virginia in line with United States Supreme Court precedent — not to mention the intent of the Founders. The language for the new law was borrowed from federal guidelines for religious liberty in schools and modeled after a recently passed law in Texas. Virginia public schools currently use religious liberty guidelines developed more than a decade ago by then Attorney General James Gilmore. Since that time, the Supreme Court has clarified the rights of students to express their faith in the classroom. 

This recent Wisconsin situation, which has stirred up passionate feelings judging by the dozens of responses on the thread of the article linked above, isn't just a product of an over zealous and misguided teacher, something "that would never happen here." The actual need for the legislation arose after several incidents of students having their religious viewpoint rights violated — here in Virginia! Just this school year, a first grade student in a public school was denied the right to read a story to her class simply because it contained the word "God." 

Such incidents happen far too often and many go unreported. The law was necessary because teachers and administrators ignore Supreme Court precedent, federal guidelines and guidelines by the Commonwealth's attorney general. Still think "authoritarian educrat" is hyperbole? Activist judges have done their part as well, making it difficult to remedy these problems through legislation. That's changed now. 

This new law, the one last year, and the precedents and legal opinions, while they received little media attention, provide an unassailable legal foundation toward returning our Commonwealth to its rightful place as a beacon of religious freedom for the rest of the nation. Given the recent abuse of constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom in Wisconsin, could the enactment of HB 1135 had better timing?