To prevent students from being silenced

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.





  1. Sastra says

    There is of course a small grain of sense in the bill. For example, a first grader who is asked to paint a picture of their “favorite things” should be allowed to include Jesus, a Bible, or a church if they so wish — and it’s fine to put this up on the bulletin board with all the other paintings. On rare occasions this sort of thing has been in dispute.

    But leaping from the right to “free expression” to a right to a “captive audience?” And the nightmare of what happens when religious reasons are allowed to pass as legitimate reasons? Let the games begin.

    It would be interesting to see what happens if the bill passes and atheists take full advantage. Playing the “atheism is a religion too” card will come back to haunt them.

  2. says

    And when Muslims use this — and Hindus and Sikhs and Wiccans and Satanists and Asatruar and Zoroastrians and Shintoists and Buddhists and adherents of other practices and faiths — it will be fun to watch the people now pushing this bill screeching about how this was not what they intended.

  3. iknklast says

    being unnecessary, as the U.S. Constitution includes strong protections for religious liberty

    Unnecessary? The necessity is this: While students in my biology class are free to vomit any religious ideas they want to on my test, they are not going to get them counted correct. My students understand this, and choose to add the religious viewpoints as a footnote, not in the actual question, while answer the question with the accepted scientific answer. Because while I allow them to answer whatever nonsense they want., they do not get it counted correct. This bill is going to correct the obvious injustice of having to give a correct answer you disagree with if you want the points. So they can get points for saying the world’s 6,000 years old, or that global warming is a hoax and god will never let us mess up the atmosphere.

    At that point, there’s not much need for grading tests anymore, since any wrong answer could theoretically become incorporated into a student’s sincerely held religious belief the second it is marked wrong. If you honestly and sincerely believe the Mississippi River is in Zaire, how could I say this is not a religious belief, without getting into the business of determining which religions are correct?

  4. Blanche Quizno says

    “It would be interesting to see what happens if the bill passes and atheists take full advantage. Playing the “atheism is a religion too” card will come back to haunt them.”

    And don’t forget the Muslims! And the Mormons! And those crazy SGI pseudo-Buddhist cultist who’ll tell everyone that you can chant a magic phrase and get everything you want!!

    Here’s a funny take on the prayer in schools topic:×1321642

    It’s the reply immediately below the question 🙂

  5. Blanche Quizno says

    @3 inknklast: The only correct answer is “Goddidit.” For every question. Deny THAT, foul heathen infidel!!

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