Religious Freedom Bill For Students Sparks Uproar
A Republican-sponsored bill strengthening protections for public school students’ religious activities is being met with stiff opposition.
The bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Jim Wheeler D-Minden, says Assembly Bill 120 gives students the right to speak about religion, distribute literature and organize prayer groups on campus.
These religious activities will be based on the same rules governing secular extracurricular activities and groups.
During a hearing Monday about the bill, several lawmakers, teachers, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, students and even a priest spoke against it, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal.
Mat Staver an attorney with the Liberty Counsel told KNPR’s State of Nevada that the bill does not really change anything in the law. He said it just emphasizes the law that is already in place, which allows students to pray silently as long as it is not disruptive.
“The problem is not that there’s not protections for students for free exercise of religion and free speech but in order for public school officials to learn it they have to constitutional lawyers,” Staver said.
He believes the law helps students, school administrators and the community understand what the rules are.
Tod Story, the executive director of the ACLU of Nevada, said the bill actually opens the doors for more disruptive pray.
“It would give religious expression a new right in schools. The students would be able to express themselves at any time, at any place,” Story said.
The ACLU also believes if the bill became law it would be challenged in court. Critics also said it favors Christian-type prayer versus other religions.
The bill stems from a case in California where a student was told to re-write his graduation speech to remove language that school officials said sounded like a Christian prayer.
Under the bill, a student who felt like his religious freedom was not being protected could sue the school district and receive an award up to $10,000.
Mat Staver, attorney, Liberty Counsel
Tod Story, executive director, ACLU of Nevada
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Mat Staver, attorney, Liberty Council; Tod Story, executive director, ACLU of Nevada