Yesterday, the House of Delegates passed SB 236, a bill for The Family Foundation that protects the rights of public school students to express their faith at various school events, on a vote of 64-34. The bill now heads to Governor Terry McAuliffe. Patroned by Senator Bill Carrico (R-40, Galax), SB 236 simply ensures that religious speech is treated by our public schools exactly like any other type of speech. The Charlottesville Daily Progress' editorial page sees it exactly that way, as well. Unfortunately, the governor has indicated that he is likely to veto this reasonable legislation (see Roanoke Times).
Such hostility to simply expressing one's faith in the public square is becoming more and more prevalent. Students in our public schools shouldn't be treated as a second class citizens simply because their viewpoints are motivated by their faith, regardless of what faith perspective they have. While some opponents to the bill argue that such speech is already protected, they also argue that allowing students to express their faith could be seen as "coercive" and "offensive" to those who don't share that faith.
In such cases, the government is supposed to be "neutral," but those who oppose bills like SB 236 desire no such neutrality. They desire silencing of faith perspectives and adherence to secular dogma. Our hope is that Governor McAuliffe will be willing to meet with us so we can explain why this bill is a good idea and why it's necessary.
Committee work is quickly coming to completion as we approach scheduled Sine Die next Saturday. Monday will be the last day for committees to pass legislation. This morning, the Senate Education and Health Committee passed a number of good education-related bills. One, HB 258, protects students' free speech rights on college campuses by prohibiting public colleges from isolating rallies, forums and even every day expression in so-called "free speech zones," which are anything but, and often are located in far flung areas of campus.
Another, HB 197, requires public school teachers to use supplementary materials that properly teach the principles of the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and other key foundational documents. These two bills now head to a vote on the Senate floor in the next few days. Delegates Scott Lingamfelter (R-31, Woodbridge) and Steve Landes (R-25, Verona) carried the two bills, respectively, and with Senator Carrico, did outstanding work on each of these issues.
Will Governor McAuliffe come to understand Senator Carrico's bill and sign it after all?