Texans should be concerned about Texas H.B. No. 3678, an act “relating to voluntary student expression of religious viewpoints in public schools.” It’s authored by Charlie Howard, an overly cheerful and zealous member of the far religious right, and Warren Chisum, who will be known forever as the bible-thumping dwarf from Pampa, and it plays the pious fairmindedness card perfectly, while hiding the fact that it emerged from the sleeve of a pair of notorious liars for Christ. It is an underhanded and sneaky bill that, under the guise of promoting religious tolerance, actually has the purpose of stripping protection from minority views and allowing a Christian majority to run roughshod over secular institutions.
Texas Citizens for Science has an excellent summary.
The bill is written to appear to be neutral and lawful, but First Amendment Constitutional law already protects legitimate student expressions of religion. The purpose of this bill is to allow students to aggressively state their beliefs about creationism in science and Protestant Christianity in history, health, and other classrooms without fear of contradiction by teachers. The bill states, “Students may express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions. Students shall neither be penalized nor rewarded on account of religious content.” Thus, a biology teacher may not penalize a student for giving answers on biology homework, classwork, and exams that invoke non-scientific creationist explanations of natural phenomena. Students may hold such pseudoscientific beliefs, learned in their churches and Sunday schools, but it is a perversion of science and education to permit such expressions in a science class without contradiction by a science teacher.
And here’s another good general summary:
The law, also called the Schoolchildren’s Religious Liberties Act, requires districts to adopt a policy under which certain student leaders must be given opportunities to speak at all school events at which students speak publicly, including graduation, football games and morning announcements.
As long as students do not engage in “obscene, vulgar, offensively lewd or indecent speech,” they will be permitted an open mic to express their religious beliefs. The law attempts to get around the constitutional prohibition against state promotion of religion by requiring schools to provide disclaimers stating that the students’ speech is not school or district sponsored.
What I find most devious (but not particularly clever; it’s a very common trick) is the way the bill sets up all secular purposes as antithetical to all religious ones, demanding an immediate compensatory religious reply. If the high school chess club puts up a notice of a tournament, why, that’s a godless secular event, and therefore religious groups must also be allowed to put up a notice of their prayer meeting. Never mind that all the schools I’ve visited (somehow, I doubt that Texas is different) allow student organizations of all sorts slap up signs everywhere, but when you’re a paranoid theist, you’ve got to see everything as a threat to your beliefs.
“Secular” does not mean anti-religious. It refers to matters of the world, the world that all of us, including the religious, live in. “2 + 2 = 4″ is a secular piece of information — it does not oppose a religious position unless you’re in some wacky cult with the weird idea that 2 + 2 is 5, and then, well, you deserve to be slapped around a bit with the great rubber-bladder-on-a-stick of basic arithmetic. Everyone is secular and lives a life of secular concerns, and only some of us have tagged on this additional religious baggage, yet some of these right wing wackos have reversed that to claim the spiritual world has primacy and the natural world is only a minor subset. They need to be wacked with the bladder-on-a-stick of reality.
Similarly, biology and physics are sciences that describe the nature of the world and its origins. These are entirely secular ideas, not anti-religion ideas, and the only conflict is because most of the major religions of the world are wacky cults with the weird idea that they provide some insight into the nature of the natural world and its beginnings. Demanding that you must be privileged to interject your religious opinions into a secular biology classroom is like demanding the right to respond to assignments in your math class with cooking recipes and limericks.
It’s a convenient false dichotomy. If the principal announces the day’s hot lunch special over the PA system in the morning, that’s a nefarious secular purpose that must then be counterbalanced by allowing one of the local Southern Baptist imams to tell the students what’s on the menu in Hell. And this law will state that the competing caterwaulings of diverse and antagonistic religious beliefs, rather than being excluded from the curriculum, are going to be a protected and especially privileged part of it. It’s an excellent way to further degrade the quality of a public school education … which is also part of the right wing’s agenda. It’s synergy!
Note also that the bill expends a great deal of wordage on the crucial issues of high school graduation and football games. At these open events in which all students are supposed to be allowed to participate, and in the case of the former is supposed to be an important honor (in Texas, the latter might also have that distinguished position), they are now supposed to allow the majority to turn them into narrow sectarian events — if a few students want, they can turn the graduation ceremony into a Baptist tent revival, and the school must support it. This is a law that says if you aren’t one of the Christian majority, you might just as well stay home. From football games, too. In Texas. I think that might be blasphemy.
This bill has already been signed and is about to pass into law. Welcome to the theocratic state of Texas! Can we quarantine you yet?