New laws in texas that effect our children

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New laws in texas that effect our children

Law on religion in school spurs fear

Web Posted: 07/25/2007 01:51 AM CDT
Jenny Lacoste-Caputo
Express-News Staff Writer
Evangelical Christians point to 1963 as the year God was kicked out of school.

That's when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Madalyn Murray O'Hair's argument and abolished the practice of students reciting prayers and Bible passages in public schools.

Since then, there have been scores of legal battles over when, or if, religion can coincide with the school day.

This year, the Texas Legislature added more fuel to the decades-old debate by passing a law that could leave the spiritual conscience of a school up to the captain of the football team.

Lawmakers approved that law and two others that could ease the way for more religion in public schools. The changes will take effect when students return to classrooms in August.


One of the measures adds the phrase "under God" to the Texas pledge, which schoolchildren say each day right after the pledge to the U.S. flag. Another directs the State Board of Education to come up with a curriculum for elective Bible classes to ensure that such classes across the state are being taught in uniform manner. Neither measure sparked much controversy.

The third new law, dubbed the Religious Viewpoints Anti-Discrimination Act, has superintendents nervous as they figure out how to implement it in the coming weeks.

It requires public school districts to adopt policies specifically allowing spontaneous religious expression by students. A so-called model policy included in the law states that upperclassmen who are student leaders — such as student council officers, class officers or the captain of the football team — should be designated as speakers.

The law does not address concerns that such a selection process could wind up leaving out minority faiths.

"This mandate is going to create a collision of ideas that should really take place outside of the school," Superintendent Richard Middleton of North East Independent School District said. "Our lawyer fees are going to go up because of this."

The new law creates a "limited open forum" that gives students the opportunity to speak about religious issues. It states that if a student speaker at a sports event, a school assembly or a graduation ceremony elects to express a religious viewpoint while addressing an otherwise permissible topic, school officials must treat the religious content the same as they would the secular content.

Jonathan Saenz, an attorney and director of legislative affairs for Free Market Foundation, helped draft the bill. He said it doesn't limit districts to the model policy.

Saenz's Plano-based group serves as the statewide public policy council associated with Dr. James Dobson's Focus on the Family organization.

"It is up to the discretion of the school district to decide who those people are as long as they're using neutral criteria," Saenz said. "The law says they can choose those in leadership positions or other students holding positions of honor."

But Doug Laycock, a law professor at the University of Michigan who has represented the American Civil Liberties Union on First Amendment issues, said the new law attempts to "create school prayer with plausible deniability."

"This is so irresponsible," Laycock said of the law. "It's going to cause legal problems for districts across the state, and they're going to be stuck with the lawsuits."

The law also requires schools to allow religious expression in artwork, homework or other assignments and allow religious clubs or prayer groups to meet in school facilities on the same basis as other student groups — something that was already taking place in San Antonio school districts.

Brian Woods, assistant superintendent for secondary administration at Northside ISD, said he'll have to figure out what counts as a limited public forum. Is it just graduation ceremonies and school assemblies, or does it include morning announcements, usually delivered by a student over a school's public address system?

In a diverse district such as Northside, where students speak more than 30 languages, ensuring that every view is represented and no one feels marginalized will be a challenge, Woods said. He also worries about the potential for conflict.

"If a kid on the football team expresses a religious message that is not in keeping with everyone in the room, will there be protests? That school principal will have to deal with that," Woods said. "What if someone wants their time to respond then and there? If we allowed a Christian to express a religious viewpoint, and then a Wiccan wants equal time, how could we prevent them from doing the same?"

The bill's author, Rep. Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land, said the new law is consistent with the Constitution and U.S. Supreme Court rulings. He said the law does not give students any new rights or take any away, but makes it clear to school districts that religious discrimination is against the law and guards students against censorship, he said.

Prayer and religion were never taken out of public schools, but teachers and principals have to walk a fine line to ensure that everyone's rights are protected. Many districts across the country — including North East ISD and Austin Independent School District — offer Bible classes as electives in high school. The classes are strictly academic and study the Bible as literature.

Schools also must allow Bible study or prayer meetings on their campuses on the same basis as other student groups, and students can organize so-called "See you at the Pole" prayer groups.

At an April news conference, Gov. Rick Perry championed the legislation.

Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, a religious freedom group, said Texans would have been better served if lawmakers simply required school district personnel to be trained on students' existing rights.

The new law will create more problems and more lawsuits, she said.

"I don't believe it really gives students any more rights to express their faith than they already had. It denies input from community members and parents and supersedes local control," Miller said. "I think Texans should be nervous when the government tries to tell their kids how and when to pray and what to believe about God."

But Saenz of Free Market Foundation said the law clarifies a student's right to religious expression in public schools.

"The beauty of this legislation is to make it clear to schools that they can't discriminate based on belief," he said.

The Texas Association of School Boards' legal department offered guidance to school districts in a newsletter last month. The article pointed out that even offensive speech is protected and made it clear that the new law means hate speech and other discriminatory speech will now have a forum in public schools.

Texas Freedom Network's Miller said that's a problem.

"We could hear the lawyers knocking at the schoolhouse door when this bill passed," she said. "It plays politics with people's faith."

I'm not college now so it does effect me, but my little sister is going to have to deal with this all and whats to come. She is young so I don't think she is ready to face these kinds of issues, I doubt she, let along anyone, would.

I can only hope someone in the texas school system will use these laws, even knowing all the risks they will face, to speak up against religion. The main point being, "You want to talk about religion? Fine, lets talk about it."

Article on 'Under God' in TX pledge 'Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act'
Article on the bible courses

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Texas is so fucked up.

Texas is so fucked up.

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So they are trying to use

So they are trying to use schools as another place to indocrinate kids with those fucking fairy tales? I know somebody is going to challenge this.

Nero(in response to a Youth pastor) wrote:

You are afraid and should be thus.  We look to eradicate your god from everything but history books.  We bring rationality and clear thought to those who choose lives of ignorance.  We are the blazing, incandescent brand that will leave an "A" so livid, so scarlet on your mind that you will not go an hour without reflecting on reality.

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I'll bet that if the

I'll bet that if the captain of the football team decided to lead the team in a prayer to any god other than the "correct" one (guess who the "right" choice is) , there'd be a shitstorm about it. Here's what would likely happen:

The student will get expelled for something like "offending the other (Christian) students," or "discrimination," or some other bullshit charge so as to let the student, his family, everyone involved and everyone watching know that Texas doesn't like non-Christians.  A lawsuit would ensue.

It'll happen. I'd bet my left kidney on it. 

Good night, funny man, and thanks for the laughter.

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If you read the act its

If you read the act its worded in such a way that it seems to try to stop discrimination based on religion, by discriminating based on popularity and grade level. That is however for "student speakers" on "limited public forums" for what the district declare "appropriate occasions"

They act lists football games, athletic event (designated by district), and announcements. The districts can still designate events though.

I thought all the fairness for religious students was already being done. Meaning they were already allowed to have there own groups, pray on their own accord, and talk about or have religious ideas in a class assignment.

I saw all those things being done before this act. Adding bullshit like speeches (not written fairly here) will at best cause tension at worst be unconstitutional. It lays the ground work for having bible verses being read over the intercom and religious speeches given at any function the school feels like, limited of course to the popular students of higher grade levels.

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I like to say, "Texas, Just under the bible belt..more commonly known as the Bible Crotch"

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I have to wonder what would

I have to wonder what would happen if one of these 'student leaders' was a Wiccan and decided to exercise his right to spontaneous religious expression.  Do you think that would go over well?  And if you have students doing the morning announcements then you will essentially have morning prayer if they so desire it.  Would that count as 'spontaneous' though?

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I doubt that many, if any,

I doubt that many, if any, "student leaders" would pray to any but the 'one true god'. Why not? Because the school officials will be careful whom they allow to be "student leaders". I'm certain that most will be selected because of their religious convictions, placed in these positions to proselytize since the school officials can't.

Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful. - Seneca

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Hey, Im living in texas

Hey, Im living in texas right now (not the bible crotch, the bible cup) and on Sept 19th Im going to a church to represent atheists in a "discussion on how to protect your faith from atheism" (starts at 7:00PM) so any help would be greatly appreciated


God is as qualified to preach morality as Charles Manson, Hell, he could give Hitler a run for his money!