A bill currently in the Michigan State Senate would become the latest in a series of laws across the country that seek to protect a student’s right to freedom of expression (specifically with respect to religious expression). According to MLive.com, similar bills have been passed in Mississippi and “were also introduced in North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Alabama earlier this year.” Essentially, the point of bills like these is to ensure that students are able to publicly express their personal religious faith without being silenced by school officials or other representatives of the government.
As many armchair church-and-state historians will tell you, the prohibition against establishing a State religion only applies to the federal government. Many of the first states firmly established churches as their official religions, although that practice has fallen by the wayside by the mid-19th century. Of course, these bills in no way establish a religion and, in fact, the Mich. bill does not mention a specific denomination in the text.
Critics of the bill suggest it is a useless piece of legislation, because it establishes rights that students already have under the Bill of Rights, as evidenced by a recent Huffington Post article. The unnamed author writes, “this bill does not guarantee any right that isn’t already established in the U.S. Constitution and enforced by law.” Also, there is concern that students whose religious beliefs are in the minority may feel marginalized, especially if another denomination is more “popular” (to use high school parlance).
While perhaps these bills are redundant to both the U.S. Constitution and—according to MLive.com— “the Michigan Constitution [which] also includes protections for religious expression,” there is also an argument to be made that expression can never have enough protection, especially for minors—a group that already has limited rights.
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The Mich. bill has since been referred to the Senate Education Committee and has sponsors from both parties. The similar bill in Miss. became law, but the American Civil Liberties Union or ACLU said it would likely draw a lawsuit. However, no such lawsuit appears to have been filed.