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Dec 16 2013

Another Fake ‘Religious Freedom’ Bill

And we have another one of those fake bills claiming to support religious freedom, this time right here in Michigan. Senate Bill 0716 is mostly pointless, “protecting” things that are already protected. Where it isn’t, it’s just plain wrong-headed.

Under the proposed language, instructors would not be permitted to grade a student’s work differently based on religious content, and schools could not prevent students from participating in religious activities on campus before or after classes.

Already true in both cases. In an art class, for example, a student can draw a religion-themed painting and it has to be graded on the same criteria that a non-religious painting would be judged. Same with an English or history paper. And this isn’t even remotely controversial. No one either denies that this is the case or wants to change it. But here’s where the vague language is dangerous. There are some situations in which “religious content” is neither appropriate nor relevant. In a biology class, for example, if one is asked on a test to explain the role of natural selection in evolution, a religious answer should not be given credit.

Schools also would not be able to limit access to facilities to religious organizations if the facilities are made available to the general public.

Also true and has been since at least 1989 and the Lamb’s Chapel ruling, which was unanimous.

Students would also be guaranteed the right to wear clothing or jewelry with religious messages if similar items with non-religious messages are permitted under school policy.

Again, already the case. And again, no one thinks it isn’t. What’s going on here is demagoguery, calculated to appeal to a sizable percentage of the Christian population that thinks they’re being persecuted when they’re not.

15 comments

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  1. 1
    D. C. Sessions

    And again, no one thinks it isn’t.

    You know better, don’t you Ed? Because there are whole congregations — not to mention towns and counties — full of people who have been told that Christianity is under attack, that it’s illegal for children to pray in school, that it’s illegal to wear religious jewelry, that children are being forced to recant Christianity in class.

    Sure, it’s all lies, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t lots of people who believe it.

  2. 2
    tsig

    What if my religious symbol is a six inch dagger?

  3. 3
    hrafn

    Somebody should offer an amendment to this bill declaring water to be wet and requiring the Sun to rise in the East. After all, you can’t be too careful about protecting yourself from such things, and think what chaos would ensue if water was allowed to be dry or the Sun to rise in the West. One shudders to think.

  4. 4
    gshelley

    There are some situations in which “religious content” is neither appropriate nor relevant. In a biology class, for example, if one is asked on a test to explain the role of natural selection in evolution, a religious answer should not be given credit.

    Is the language broad enough that it would allow Creationist answers in biology tests?

  5. 5
    Chiroptera

    Huh. You’d think they’d've added explicit language to prohibit sending Christians to FEMA camps.

  6. 6
    dickspringer

    What happens to the kid who shows up with a t-shirt saying “God sucks” or something similar?

  7. 7
    Trebuchet

    Is the language broad enough that it would allow Creationist answers in biology tests?

    I’d guess that’s the intention, yes. Even if it’s not, it’s a cinch someone would file a suit claiming it if the bill passes.

  8. 8
    John Pieret

    Is the language broad enough that it would allow Creationist answers in biology tests?

    A teacher/school could probably just say that the student wasn’t graded differently because of the religious content but because of the lack of scientific content. However, since most el-hi teachers avoid teaching evolution to avoid headaches from parents, there’d be a great temptation to just pass the kid.

    On the other hand, if a kid wrote on a test “I don’t believe this stuff, I believe in the Bible” and proceeded to give the right answers, s/he souldn’t be penalized.

  9. 9
    Loqi

    I’d like to propose a bill to protect my right to flush toilets, to not eat pickles, and to operate a phillips-head screwdriver.

  10. 10
    Nathair

    What if my religious symbol is a six inch dagger?

    I think you missed this part;

    if similar items with non-religious messages are permitted under school policy.

    So if the school already allows wearing daggers, you’re all set.

  11. 11
    John Pieret

    So if the school already allows wearing daggers, you’re all set.

    Well, Sikhs consider carrying a dagger to be a religious duty for men. Most in America, I believe, get around this by carrying small blunted “symbolic” daggers but IIRC, at least one public school had a problem with a student carrying even that.

  12. 12
    chuckster

    “What happens to the kid who shows up with a t-shirt saying “God sucks” or something similar?”

    Which is why many schools will hve a policy that says no shirts with messages at all. So in those schools many a student was told they coudl not wear the shirt with the religious message just like any other and of course they claim they are being persecuted

  13. 13
    Michael Heath

    Conservative Christians seek the establishment of the Christian religion along with infringing on the religious freedom rights of those they oppose politically, including other Christians. So I’m not so worried about them demagoguing and pandering in a manner that has them seeking to pass legislation for increased religous freedom protections. Instead I’m concerned on what they’ve slipped in here that either infringes upon our rights or has government promoting the Christian religion.

    Here’s the bill (html): http://goo.gl/AwYhZJ. The PDF version is 14 pages long.

    A quick google didn’t have me finding any articles on this bill, oddly enough that included not finding the MLive article Ed links to in his post. I wonder if this section from the MLive article is designed to allow the government to preach or pray to a captive audience, under the guise of student speech:

    The bill also includes a “model policy governing voluntary religious expression in public schools and state public universities” that sets forth guidelines for how districts can allow students to speak at events like football games and graduations and express religious viewpoints.

    The language in Jansen’s proposal is virtually identical to a “Student Religious Liberty Act” adopted by Mississippi lawmakers earlier this year and championed by the American Family Association, a conservative interest group.

    Bills with similar language were also introduced in North Carolina, Oklahoma and Alabama earlier this year, and Texas lawmakers adopted a similar law in 2007 that the American Family Association has based their proposals on.

    “The Student Religious Liberties Act empowers students to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed religious liberty and disentangles school administrators from policing religion,” an American Family Association fact sheet issued in April states.

  14. 14
    iknklast

    Under the proposed language, instructors would not be permitted to grade a student’s work differently based on religious content

    While I’m sure the authors of this bill didn’t mean this in the way I’m reading it, this could actually be turned around by Biology teachers, because to give a student credit for a religious (but wrong) answer on a Biology test would indeed be grading a student’s work differently based on religious content, since every other student giving a wrong answer would get it marked wrong. If enough clever people jump on this, they could have shot themselves in the foot over that one.

  15. 15
    bushrat

    @4 You can give Creationist answers to science tests now, but they will be wrong. After this is inevitably passed as yet another useless waste of time law, the creationist answers will still be wrong, and the kid can still try to answer the questions with them…they’ll just fail the test. The only way they would be correct (now and in the future) would be if the teacher is using poorly worded questions.

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