A bill is up for approval by Tennessee governor Bill Haslam that would greatly expand the place of religion in schools to the point of allowing discrimination against students who don't share certain beliefs.
The Tennessee “Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act” allows students to express their “religious viewpoint” in class, at school events, on homework assignments, and in any other school-related forum. It also requires schools to give students a place to hold religious meetings.
The New Civil Rights Movement warns that the bill tacitly sanctions anti-gay bullying. It writes:
An evangelical student, or example, could preach the gospel during a science class, or “witness” during English. Attacks on LGBT people and same-sex marriage are automatically protected under this bill, offering anti-gay students a state-sposored license to bully. And of course, a student could claim they worship Satan and subject their classmates to that “religious viewpoint” as well.
The ACLU has also voiced its alarm about the bill, which, it says, “crosses the line from protecting religious freedom into creating systematic imposition of some students’ personal religious viewpoints on other students.”
“Should this pass, students with a range of religious beliefs, as well as non-believers, would likely routinely be required to listen to religious messages or participate in religious exercises that conflict with their own beliefs,” the organization commented.
“Conversely, if a student of a minority religious faith (e.g., a Buddhist, a Wiccan, etc.) or a non-believer were to obtain a ‘position of honor,’ as defined under this bill, that student would be permitted to subject all classmates to prayer and proselytizing specific to his or her faith tradition in connection with school events. In both cases, parents would have no recourse to ensure that their children were not coerced into such religious exercise.”
The New Civil Rights Movement reports that Oklahoma is considering its own “Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act,” while Texas already has one.