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Religious Expression in Texas

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Texas students would have greater freedom to express their religious views on school campuses under a bill passed Saturday by the House and sent to Gov. Rick Perry, who has publicly supported the measure.

Under the legislation, religious beliefs expressed in homework, artwork and other assignments would be judged by traditional academic standards. Students couldn't be penalized or rewarded because of the religious content of their work.

Supporters say the bill is needed to protect students from censorship and school districts from lawsuits. But opponents argue it will lead to religious discrimination among students.

What's your view on religious expression in schoolwork? How should educators judge such work? Will such a law lead to religious discrimination, as feared?

26 Comments

In my American lit class, students frequently express religious and anti-religious viewpoints in written responses. I grade them as I would any responses, based on critical thinking. I want my students to feel comfortable expressing their views and not feel that I am censoring them.

I think this is especially needed to protect the younger children. I hear stories like the one this year quite often. A kindergartener brought in her bible story book as part of her "student of the week" time. All the children were to share various specific things, and a favorite book was one. A book she read every night with one of her parents, this book was very important to her and at this time was a part of her identity. Her teacher, having been told by the NEA etc took the book from the child, who was in front of the class showing her things, and said with a laugh "oh, we have this silly little law that says you can't bring these things to school" and put the bible story book away in the child's backpack. All the class learned that day that their faith was not allowed at school, and if they didn't want to be embarassed in front of their friends they should never bring their religious objects or words to school. My own daughter had somehow picked up on this over the years and as a 3rd grader left an open spot on her Thanksgiving Turkey artwork. I asked her is she could think of anything else to put in that spot as I hung it up on our wall. She said "well, yes, I left it open because I wanted to thank Jesus and God but you are not supposed to write that at school." She learned about her rights that day, but already she was too meek to take a stand. This needs to stop, and without a law like Texas, teachers aren't going to get the facts about our rights.

I support this bill. I think too many times our children have been censored due to their religious beliefs. My school offers Muslim students the opportunity to pray during the day but not Christian students. All students should be given the opportunity to express their religious beliefs without the administration getting in the way. Those who will speak out, will and those who choose to be private, will remain private.

I think sometimes teachers are unfamiliar with laws and rules. I wonder if there are actually any laws in practice that prohibit the type of expression described above or if, in fact, it is simply a teacher that is unclear on the proper policies. I have, in my own school, allowed students to quote the Bible in speeches (as well as the Koran), recite poems from the Bible, and certainly, write praises to Jesus, God, and Mohammad as part of any art or written assignment that allows for such freedom. Students express their beliefs pretty openly in my room and I have received no admonishments from families or administration in this regard.

I do not see a problem with students giving speeches that express their ideas either, just so long as the counter viewpoints are also freely permitted. It gets tricky if students begin to use freedom of expression to be hateful to others. Also, I would have a problem is if the law allowed a religious text to be "evidence" in specific types of report/assignments, which would be counter to the specific discipline being taught and thus inappropriate. For instance, to quote the Bible or Koran as evidence when asked to do a science report on what science has revealed about the universe would probably not fly, unless the student also showed all of the science behind the ideas as well (since science learning is what I would be assessing for, not religion or literature). Students are expected to recognize appropriateness of sources for specific types of evidence and subject areas. I would also have a problem if teachers led or presented religious ideas in any coercive way or if the school endorsed them or closed off counter ideas. As an example, a Bible Club is fine as long as an atheistic club is also allowed. I hope this is how the law is worded, and not in some way that supports one type of freedom of expression while thwarting another.

Having heard of public school classroom teachers and principals who have clamped down on students' religious expression, I favor the Texsas legisla-tion. Freedom of expression and freedom of religion are so closely tied together that both must be secured. There should be no doubt about the state's policy.

I am the principal of a Lutheran elementary school with a large non-Lutheran student population. Students of other faith traditions in our school are at times encouraged to study their own faith even more and to expound on that faith in public speaking settings or in written format.

If we can handle diversity of religious expression, then surely students in Tarrant County or anywhere else in Texas should be able to express themselves, too.

I am especially interested in the sciences and the conversation that is often challenged among students with regard to universe, evolution and even geology. I believe that the classroom should be a safe environment for students to articulate and support their stance with defending their belief. Most times, the student is challenged by questions from other students. I find that this is a foundation of philosophical thought that prods the student's self awareness, and many times causes them to pursue their statement with more questions than with solid answers. This may not end in a final statement or conclusion, as much as a healthy discourse among peers. It also develops the technique of dialogue and listening (without necessarily agreeing).

How will we ever arrive at understanding, compassion, harmony, or peace worldwide, if we shut the doors to civil expression, empathic listening, mutual understanding and cooperation?

If "opponents argue it will lead to religious discrimination among students," then opponents could also argue that efforts to infuse multicultural perspectives into our curriculum will likewise "lead to" ethnic "discrimination."

One of the difficulties we all seem to face relative to issues like this is that many of us are "uptight" about anything contrasting with our own individual points of view or beliefs. Most people claim to be fair minded, but what is probably being added silently is, "as long as (it) coincides with my point of view."

Perhaps someone should ask Mr. Falwell's successor how well this legislation protecting "religious freedom" worked out for the folks at Liberty University. After suing a school district to allow students to distribute flyers regarding one Jesus camp or another, a pagan group successfully used the law to advertise their religion in the school, much to the outrage of the fundamentalists in the community. However, there wasn't much the Christians could do about it, seeing as how they opened the door in the first place.

I can't wait for the first atheist valedictorian to open her remarks by saying, "First, I'd like to thank the Big Bang, which created the organic molecules out of which life developed, and blue-green algae, the first form of life that appeared on this earth 4.5 bya. Next, I'd like to thank Johannes Kepler, for discovering the mathematics that led to the development of a heliocentric model of the galaxy and the orbits of stars, and Charles Darwin, for laying the foundation of modern evolutionary biology and providing conclusive proof that the literal account of creation in the book of Genesis is utter nonsense."

It will be interesting to see how vigorously her freedomes are protected after that.

'Scuse me. "Freedomes" should read "freedoms."

One more: "After Liberty University successfully sued a school to allow students ..."

Although I do support the Texas bill that students would have greater freedom to express their religious views on school campuses, I hope we are all mindful that this could be a double-edged sword (trite expression, I know, but it works here). I can't even respond in kind to a child's "Merry Christmas" without fearing some retaliation.

All religious views, some of them quite contentious, would share this freedom on our campuses. Is the religious, Christian, right willing to allow all beliefs a voice on campus?

How will the line be drawn between free expression and proselytizing?

Much as I like the idea of this bill, I'm concerned about its application.

All of this is about one basic thing. Taxpayers should be confident in using the public institutions that they are paying for. It is absolutely wrong to force people to accept a fractured psyche for their little ones. Kids should be able to grow up with one operative set of facts and beliefs. It should never be, "well, its one set of answers at school and another at home and another on the street." So, reading parts of any book in appropriate educational contexts and forums should not be a problem for anyone. If it is, then they should sign up for my philosophy class. The money that pays for schools is green regardless of its source. I think that some of the above comments were made by people that do not understand the principle of community stakeholdership in schools. Everyone is an important part and should be given with a fair hearing. The person with the bit about science is obviously in need of a history of science course.

The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;"The 14th Amendment makes this applicable to the States.The latter part of the clause ensures that individuals can practice and express their religious beliefs.Children have the freedom to talk,write or express their religious beliefs in a public school. I don't believe a law is necessary to secure this right. However,I am not opposed to the law if it will clarify the issue.

Religious freedom is based on the free exercise of one's religion, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist, or whateverist. Public schools should not limit religious expression by students, and if religious beliefs are an integral part of their writing, artwork, or even presentations, it is okay by me, with or without a law. It is actually rather sad that anyone should feel that it is necessary to enact a law to protect religious expression. I myself generally respond with a Merry Christmas, when I have been wished one. I have also wished Happy Kwanza, Easter and other holidays. I do not preach in a public school. That is not my job and it should not be. Religious arguments can have as much validity in some discussions as "scientific" ones. I will grade on presentation of ideas, not on the ideas presented.

Growing up attending public schools, I have failed to see where religion has been so banned from any discussion and personal expression. As an atheist since middle school, I have experienced quite the opposite. I have been forced to sit in on group prayer before school events, subject to prayer groups for my “benefit” on school buses, and have experienced discrimination and hate speech from students and adults alike, all while in the public school system. I have seen, however, where religions other than Christian based religions are viewed as subversive, dangerous, and students who practice other religions and beliefs are treated with hostility and condescension.
The religion most likely being touted in this legislation and by its supporters, whether it is explicitly state or not, is that of the Christian denomination. Students of all religions, and non-religions, are forced to acknowledge and sometimes partake in Anglo-Christian holidays and traditions throughout the entire school year. It has also been my experience that Christians are mostly ignorant, if not outright discriminatory and prejudice towards other religions, cultures, and people who do not fit their small worldview.
My experience is that Christians are more concerned with expressing their faith in order to change those around them to be like them, or to chastise and berate those who are not like them or who they deem sinful or unholy. Schools are still a dangerous place for students on “the fringes” of society, especially in areas of the country dominated by conservative Christians.
After actually reading this legislation, it is quite apparent that the bill does not truly intent to protect the religious freedom of all students. It gives a forum for the top performing students in schools, holding a small number of elected positions (a very limited and small pool of students) a loud speaker to express their views for everyone to hear, whether they would like to or not. It seeks to turn every school event into a religious-led activity.
“Let us not shoot hoops without giving our props to the Big Guy.”
I would like to believe that students of all faiths and non-faiths would have the opportunity to express their views, but I really doubt it will turn out that way.

It seems that I recall the Clinton administration going through an exercise in making clear what the Constitution does and does not allow with regard to the exercise of free speech vis a vis religion in such public arenas as the public schools.

Either the folks in Texas don't want to trust that, or they have some other motive in putting forth this legislation. Sad to say, as a practicing Christion, I have observed that others who worship under the same cross, as it were, sometimes put forth charges of discrimination when they don't perceive sufficient political and policy support for their views.

I think some of the silliness with regard to what is "allowed" or not comes from the Religious Right--who are trying to create a burning bridge to gather support. My experience has been that errors fall too far in the direction of support for the Christian religion. In my district we still have annual Christmas Concerts--with an obligatory secular song or two (Jingle Bells) and a Hannukah reference. We make an enormous show of calling them "Holiday Concerts." I find it insulting and a total slap in the face to anyone (and our district has quited a diversity) who comes from other faith traditions.

When election time comes around two issues pop up to distract voters from the real issues that need discussion. They are Abortion and Prayer in the Schools. This Texas law is opening the door for more trouble in our public schools. As if the NCLB Act wasn't enough. Federal standards and religion should not be in the same sentence.

Young children are taught different religious beliefs in their homes. When they are very young, confusion may set in when these deep beliefs are said aloud. For instance, when my grandaughter, told her friend that the tooth fairy came to her house last night, she was sharing a magical thought after losing a special part of herself. A story that she had been told. She said it in innocence. When the child in her carpool said, "There is no tooth fairy!" that was what she was being taught. Her parents would not allow her to believe in a tooth fairy, and she wasn't going to keep that to herself.

My daughter doesn't believe that the tooth fairy is an affront to God, so she's ready to change car pools. She just doesn't want to be irritated every morning by this child who won't keep her beliefs to herself. She is being taught to evangelize. We don't need that in our public schools.

Perhaps the public schools have enough problems without taking on religion, at the primary level at least.

It is interesting to me how the conversation has changed from allowing freedom of religious expression by students to suppression of that freedom. Freedom of religious (and political) expression is a constitutionally guaranteed right, and such expression, as long as the expression is not done in a manner that disrupts the decorum of the classroom, or as long as it is related to the classroom discussion, should always be allowed. As has been stated before, the quality of the research, arguments and thought processes used should be the issue in the classroom.
I grew up as a member of a minority religion. I did not feel that the religious expression of the majority religion in the area in which I grew up in any way infringed on my own beliefs, or my ability to express them, although I was sometimes ridiculed for them by some other students (always outside the classroom, as such would not have been allowed in the classroom). I personally never found it necessary to argue with others about religious issues, although I often engaged in discussions about them. I think it is entirely possible to explain to others ones beliefs without demeaning theirs, and when matters of religion arise in school, this is the attitude with which I think it should be approached. It is my understanding that this is the purpose of the law.

There is a misconception, shared by many people, including teachers, that religion is not allowed in school. This is not true. Anyone can pray (including the teacher, although she must do it silently) and the children can certainly share their religious beliefs during "sharing." However, it is true that many teachers are afraid to allow it because they think it's illegal. It's not. What is illegal is her initiation of the sharing ("How many of you believe in Jesus? Who would like to share what they know about the Son of God?") Anyone with even a passing knowledge of our history would know the reason for this: People have different religious beliefs and they want the freedom to pass these beliefs on to their own children without interference from the teacher.

It is illegal for the teacher to share her religious beliefs with the class or to provide instruction in a particular religion. However, she is free to teach ABOUT religion (e.g. "There are two principal religions in the United States: Christianity and Judaism."). She cannot pray out loud, although the children can, as long as they do not disturb the class (They can certainly say grace before their meal or pray at recess, if that's what they choose to do, but school personnel are not permitted to lead or encourage this.)

The United States is one of the most religious nations in the world. My advice to parents is this: If you want "religion in the schools" then teach your child to pray in school or to study their religious books during free reading. Religious instruction is YOUR duty, not the teacher's.

The Texas bill is unnecessary because students already have this freedom. What we need is education about the First Amendment.

Church and state should remain separate in public schools. It is too tempting to use one as a tool against the other in an effort to manipulate the young minds of our children. Learn about religion on Sundays in church; learn to read, write, and communicate effectively in school. What you do on your own time (not the taxpayers time and dollar) is your business. This is another example as to why our kids are coming out of school with little skills because our curriculum is so inflated with this nonsense. Keep religion in the churches where it belongs.

As long as all religions are included and not only the predominant Christian religion. It must include Islam, Hindu, Pagan, Judaism, or Atheism. I favor separation of church and state because we - as a society - are likely unable to practice true religious diversity.

Freedom of religious expression is a fundamental right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Why should should that right be denied expression in the classroom when it is integral to understanding the ideological and historic foundations of this country. Discrimination will not become an issue unless we squelch or espouse any particular religious belief system. Grading would be done according to the evidence supporting each individual assignment's stated goals and objectives. Instead of being in fear of spiritual issues in the school environment, we should be promoting them.

This new bill is a part of the ongoing efforts of some religious groups to foist their beliefs on others; particularly, students, the most vulnerable to proselytizing. Clearly much that is presented by students will be the work of parents and others who wish to have religion enter the doors of public education.

This is not a freedom of speech issue, this is an effort to make Christianity the state religion in contravention of the U.S. Constitution. Further, this bill will set one religion against another. And that has been the problem with religion of all stripes throughout history.

Leave religion in the home, church, synagogue, mosque, temple, etc.

No fear ... just facts. That's what gets public schools in trouble to begin with; they start thinking and feeling too much and they don't apply enough logic and truth to situations before they make decisions. The result: confused children who don't know how many parents they should have and what sex they should be and who and what they should believe in and whether they should respect our flag. Keep your opinions out of it and stick only with the truth. Our kids deserve nothing less.

It is truly disappointing to notice that may people have been suckered into believing that seperation is apart of the constitution. Check it out real well and find out that the only suggestion to seperation came from a few half witted judges. Find the original quote and then decide if we are doing what was suggested 200 years ago.

It is truly disappointing to notice that may people have been suckered into believing that seperation is apart of the constitution. Check it out real well and find out that the only suggestion to seperation came from a few half witted judges. Find the original quote and then decide if we are doing what was suggested 200 years ago.

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