Student Religious Liberty Bill In House Committee Monday Morning!Feb 23, 2014
On Monday morning, the House Education Committee will vote on SB 236, a priority for The Family Foundation that protects the rights of public school students to express their faith at various school events. Its patron is Senator Bill Carrico (R-40, Galax), a longtime defender of religious liberty in the General Assembly. Curiously, the bill has caught the attention of Governor Terry McAuliffe. Based on existing law in two states that has not been challenged in the courts, Senator Carrico's bill would create what the law calls "limited public forums" at certain public school events, which restrict schools from censoring subject matter simply because it is from a faith perspective. The schools can still "limit" the speech to the matter at hand; for example, a graduation speech must be about graduating, but it can contain statements about the importance of faith, etc.
The bill also protects students' rights to organize prayer groups, have events such as "see you at the pole" gatherings, wear clothing with religious expression, and he like. The bill is based on federal court precedent.
Opposition to a similar House bill earlier this session was fierce and misleading. Coming from the ACLU and other groups, the opposition claimed that the bill was an attempt to circumvent Supreme Court rulings concerning school prayer, but the bill isn't really about school prayer — it's about freedom of speech and association. Opponents also expressed concern that the bill could be "dangerous" and that it is certain to cause lawsuits. But that assertion is baseless. The law has existed in two states for several years but has not elicited lawsuits.