School religious freedom bill passes Senate committee

02/09/2017 02:04 PM

FRANKFORT – A bill which would allow students to voluntarily express religious or political viewpoints in school assignments was passed on Thursday by the Senate Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection.

The legislation, Senate Bill 17, which was sponsored by Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London, passed by a 12-1 vote.

If the bill were to become law, students would be free to distribute religious materials and teachers could use the Bible for teaching about the role of religion in America’s history.

ACLU of Kentucky Advocacy Director Kate Miller says that the bill is unnecessary because students are already protected by free speech and religious rights.

Miller is also concerned about studies concerning the Bible.

“The ACLU of Kentucky opposes Senate Bill 17 because it includes language that establishes the framework for Bible literacy study in our public school classrooms without detailed guidelines on how to keep that study from teaching rather than preaching,” Miller said.

Robinson said even though students have the right to do what the bill allows, it would eliminate fear and confusion, he says currently exists in many school districts.

“The teachers, the superintendents, the administrators, the parents, and the children are afraid to exercise these rights because of fear of retaliation against groups who will sue if they go to a certain level,” Robinson said.

Sen. Perry Clark, D-Louisville, cast the lone no vote saying the legislation was unnecessary.

“The enumerations of all of these provisions in this bill were enumerated in 1990 and they’ve all been backed up by court decisions,” Clark said. “Basically, this appears to me as a backwards attempt to establish one ecclesiastical policy as preeminent over others.”

In voting yes on the bill, Sen. Ernie Harris, R-Crestwood, said past lawsuits from the ALCU is one reason a law is needed.

“While the ACLU and other organizations claim to have supported religion on a variety of fronts, they have also created so much confusion that this bill in necessary because almost monthly, or more frequently than that, a city or a county is trying to post the Ten Commandments or our founding documents, and are afraid of a law suit,” Harris said.

SB17 will come up for a floor vote in the Senate on Friday.


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