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.


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