In Tennessee…another one of those “Protect Religious Rights to Talk Shit About People God Hates” laws is on the governor’s desk.
Tennesee’s Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act, or SB1793/HB 1547, purports to prevent students from being silenced when expressing their religious beliefs in the classroom, when turning in written assignments, and at official school functions, including graduation and mandatory assemblies. In addition to specifying “that a student may express beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions,” the bill also requires that students will “not be penalized or rewarded on account of the religious content of the student’s work.” Further, the bill appears to establish special speaking engagements for students to share their religious beliefs at official school functions — and even over the school’s announcement system.
Opponents of the legislation say it’s the latest attempt to establish a so-called license to discriminate, this time doing so in public, state-funded schools. They say that in addition to being unnecessary, as the U.S. Constitution includes strong protections for religious liberty, in practice the law would be exploited by those wanting to impose their religious beliefs about such matters as LGBT rights, evolution, contraception, and even racial and religious diversity, on other students who don’t share those perspectives.
They should just make the law broader, and then it will be fine. The bill should be written prevent students from being silenced when expressing any unreasonable baseless evidence-free beliefs in the classroom, in homework, at assemblies. It should be a charter for students’ rights to believe any old shit, and not just believe it, but get good grades for saying it in homework and on exams. It should just forbid any pesky secular reason-based attempt to teach students concepts and theories and knowledge based on evidence and argument as opposed to speculation and arbitrary beliefs.
As David Badash at The New Civil Rights Movement points out, the bill likely violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, commonly recognized as mandating the separation of church and state. But Badash also notes that if the bill became law:
“An evangelical student, for 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-sponsored license to bully. And of course, a student could claim they worship Satan and subject their classmates to that ‘religious viewpoint’ as well.”
Let a thousand flowers bloom.