A Proposed Religious Freedom Bill Would Exempt Religious Students from Work Conflicting with Their Beliefs

The Virginia Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections recently voted 8-6 to endorse Senate Joint Resolution No. 287 (SJ 287) — which would amend the state’s constitution to allow for prayer at graduation and let students get out of doing an assignment if it violates their faith:

That the Commonwealth shall not coerce any person to participate in any prayer or other religious activity, but shall accommodate the right of any person to pray individually or corporately on public property so long as such prayer does not result in disturbance of the peace or disruption of a public meeting or assembly or other public business; that citizens as well as elected officials and employees of the Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall have the right to pray on government premises and public property so long as such prayers abide within the same parameters placed upon any other free speech under similar circumstances;

… that students in public schools may express their beliefs about religion in written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their work; that no student in public schools shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his religious beliefs

One of the obviously-Republican sponsors, Sen. William M. Stanley, Jr., explained why this bill was necessary:

Sen. William M. Stanley, Jr.

… he said that a Muslim high school student could ask to be excused from dissecting a fetal pig in biology class, because their religion views those animals as unclean, without affecting his or her grades.

Right. He’s doing this to protect Muslim students…

For what it’s worth, there’s no record that I can find of any student being forced to dissect an animal against his/her will. I would think every anatomy or biology teacher already makes those accommodations.

We know what this is really about.

This is about clergy members delivering invocations at government meetings or students saying prayers at graduation.

This is about refusing to accept credible science because it goes against your religious beliefs.

Stanley, in response to his more-intelligent critics, says this has nothing to do with evolution:

He said that under his resolution, a student who has a literal belief in the Bible that God created the Earth in seven days would not be permitted to ignore Darwin’s theory of natural selection and evolution in class — but he or she also would not be penalized for rejecting or disagreeing with those scientific teachings.

“They should still be able to recite Darwin’s theory,’’ Stanley said.

Find me one example — just one — of a student getting punished by a teacher for correctly explaining what evolution is but admitting s/he doesn’t believe it and I’ll take back everything.

It doesn’t happen.

Science teachers will never penalize you for not accepting what they teach you. Hell, Christians have gotten PhDs despite not believing the facts in their own thesis!

The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty points out just how pointless this amendment would be:

Of course, if the invocation before a public meeting, prayer before a football game, or religious song at graduation, violates the First Amendment’s guaranty of religious freedom, it doesn’t much matter what Virginians do to their own constitution. Such activities, where prohibited now, would remain so. The same goes for the other major plank of the amendment: a provision allowing prayer on public property. Supporters of this measure rarely acknowledge that such prayer would still be [protected] by, and subject to, the First Amendment, but it would be.

This amendment isn’t needed and it raises a host of Constitutional issues. Thankfully, it still has a long way to go before it becomes law:

To amend the state constitution, the resolution would have to pass the General Assembly twice, with a general election for the House of Delegates between the two legislative sessions, and then receive approval from voters in a referendum.

If you live in Virginia, please tell your representatives not to support this useless amendment.

(Thanks to Brian for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Jasper

    Do the State legislatures have access to any lawyers, or is there some constitutional amendment that disallows them from consulting anyone who’d know anything?

  • Lance Finney

    Sadly, a nearly identical amendment passed by referendum in Missouri last year: http://lmfinney.wordpress.com/2012/07/18/vote-no-on-amendment-2-and-how-else-you-can-help/


  • Mario Strada

    These people make me so tired. They are constantly probing and pushing and testing. If our schools did their job there would be a lot less fools like him around.

  • C Peterson

    I’d love to see all the major colleges and universities get together and state that public schools in states that adopt religious exemption policies do not meet their accreditation standards, and that this will significantly reduce the possibility of students from those states being accepted for admission.

  • Haha USA

    Haha USA. You are so full of the stupid that the rest of us regard you as a developing country.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1220871538 Alan Eckert

    “shall accommodate the right of any person to pray individually or corporately on public property so long as such prayer does not result in disturbance of the peace or disruption of a public meeting”

    Any prayer at a public meeting postpones the actual work to be done that is intended at each meeting. Therefore, any prayer at a public meeting “disrupts a public meeting.”

    Oh and it is also unconstitutional, unless you want to try and pull a Calhoun.

  • http://twitter.com/SouthHumanist SouthernHumanist

    Can we go ahead and assume that a pregame Friday night Salah would be considered “disruptive” ?

  • One of “The Smart”

    These are a few nut jobs trying to pass one law in one state that no one cares about. Most of us realize that the whole thing is ridiculous. Try actually thinking of an entire country’s demographic (or at least learning to speak English on an English language forum) before saying that America is just a bunch of “the stupids”.

  • LesterBallard

    Watch your mouth or we’ll drone strike your ass.

  • Roy Gamsgrø

    “no student [...] shall be compelled to [...] participate in [...] educational presentations that violate his religious beliefs…”

    “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”
    – 1. Tim 2:12

    Sooo… Would this bill mean that kids could get out of class if the teacher is a woman?

  • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

    This sounds awesome. Who wants to be in my new religion – we’re pretty laid back, but we do have strongly held fundamental objections to homework, nine am starts, and compulsory sports.

  • A3Kr0n

    Sen. William M. Stanley, Jr., Superhero of the downtrodden Christian minority. Tada!
    We need to do something to stop these guys from getting elected.
    We need more ugly billboards!
    We need more ugly billboards!
    (begin chanting in unison)
    We need…

  • Machintelligence
  • C Peterson

    The (not so) United States really is like several countries… and some of them actually are pretty much like developing countries- indeed, would be completely like them but for the pork they receive from the Federal government. Those of us living in civilized states look on the Bible Belt and the south just as you look (mistakenly) on the whole country.

  • Haha USA

    I fancy that my English is rather better than yours. You know, I spell “colour” correctly etc.

    There’s always some dumb patriotic knob that pops in to prove a point.


  • Joy Morris

    This is the same state that had the ground breaking Statute for Religious Freedom passed 1786.

  • flyb

    I live in Virginia and can’t wait to get the fuck out.

  • Phil Cleaver

    I see more similarities between the southern US and Pakistan than I do between the southern US and, say, Norway, or England, or Canada…

  • coyotenose

    If you’re ignorant enough to not know that “color” has more than one correct spelling, and stupid enough to speak anyway, there’s no real helping you.

    You just showed that you don’t know the definition of the word “patriotic”. Congratulations.

    You don’t say “touché”, the other guy does. Learn to read, please.

    Thanks for popping in to fail to prove a point, knob.

  • coyotenose

    He’s a faux-superior twit, but not being a completely fluent English speaker doesn’t negate his point.

    Now his response to you? That pretty well destroys his point.

  • Haha USA

    Says the guy that doesn’t know what touché means. Probably because you’re also a patriotic numbskull that cannot take ridicule of your beloved – and righteously deplorable country.

    And, no. In English there is only one valid spelling of the word colour. Simple gits tend to need their lives made easier for them because silent letters are too complicated to learn.

    How would you ever learn to speak another language like French or Spanish ormitalian. Oh, yes, you’re generally monoglots.

    The stupid, it burns.


  • Haha USA
  • Edward

    In all seriousness though, from where I’m standing in the lands down under, it does seem that the various parts of the USA are becoming more and more religious, and trying ever harder to drag the country into a new dark ages.

    However, such observations are highly susceptible to confirmation bias, so my question to those who actually live in the states where this kind of shenanigans occurs, is the type of activity articulated in the original post part of the usual background noise of politics, or is this kind of posturing something new?

  • The Other Weirdo

    Actually, I’m OK with this. So long as the students are willing to live with a zero(0) mark that counts towards their final grade and being unable to graduate. I am all for teaching kids that decisions have consequences.

  • DougI

    Religious people demand a law to be passed that allows them to be lazy on their jobs. If they aren’t allowed to get a paycheck for not doing anything then they’ll whine about religious persecution. What morons.

  • baal

    Troll much? (@haha USA)

  • Thalfon

    I like the idea, but let me shift it a bit in favour of the students, whom we don’t wish to leave by the roadside in our efforts to fix the school system. There should be some way for students to demonstrate whether they do have the appropriate education, so that the fact that their parents chose a poor school doesn’t adversely affect them. I’m not sure what would serve best though. A test would be difficult to administer. Perhaps an essay on the topic in question (in this case biology).

  • baal

    Well, I’m sure the school system would call it free action by the students if all the football players and cheerleaders (male) lined up in neat rows on the field and faced mecca while the football players and cheerleaders (females) line up in a second set of rows (maybe hidden by a banner or off field somewhere) and all got busy with a non-sectarian bow and pray routine while the coach controls the timing from the side lines and the school provides the forum (including material, microphones, speakers and lighting).

  • Randomfactor

    As long as they’re also exempted from the paycheck they would otherwise have been able to claim…

  • http://twitter.com/SouthHumanist SouthernHumanist

    Man I’d pay money to see this (maybe as an SNL skit or something)