Anti-Religious Discrimination Bill Could Cause Religious Discrimination: MO Reverend

Categories: Education

A Republican lawmaker wants to make classrooms fair game for God.
Should Missouri protect religious expression of public schools?

That seems to be the question at the bottom of the Student Religious Liberty Act, which would prohibit school districts from discriminating against students' voluntary expression of religious opinions, including in homework assignments. The bill passed the state legislature last month and is waiting for Governor Jay Nixon's signature (or veto), but critics say the bill is a rehash of existing laws and could, in fact, open the door to religious discrimination in the classroom.

"We want school board members to have a real clear understanding of the rights of students," says the bill's sponsor, Republican Representative Elijah Haahr. "We don't want students to be marginalized. Whether it's a Hindu viewpoint or a Satanist viewpoint, our goal is to make sure they have the same opportunities."

See also: Missouri Bill Would Allow Businesses To Refuse Service If "Substantially Motivated" By Religion

Rep. Elijah Haahr
Haahr concedes that many of the components of the bill, HB 1303, are mirrored in existing state and federal laws, which already protect students' right to pray individually and in groups, wear religiously themed clothing or form religious clubs, among others things. While schools cannot require students to participate in school prayer or other religious activities, it also can't prohibit students from getting their God on if they're not disrupting classes or school operations.

The goal of the Student Religious Liberty Act, Haahr says, is to eliminate confusion by bringing these laws together on the state level. Though he can only site a handful of cases where students were discriminated against -- one Potosi teacher apparently told students "they were not allowed to have their Bibles out in the school" -- he thinks many more go unreported.

"This gives schools a clear place to go whenever a student speech issue arises. They can see, there's no gray areas."

See also: Publisher of Tea Party Coloring Book Thinks Propaganda Should Be Part of MO Classrooms

But when Reverend Dr. David Greenhaw looks at the bill, all he sees is gray area. Even worse, he sees the potential for the law to create religious discrimination, especially when it comes to the teachers forced to evaluate the "voluntary" religious expression of their students.

"On its face, the intent of the bill is to secure religious liberty, but in primary and secondary education that kind of religious freedom actually invites the involvement of the teacher in the topic," he says.

Greenhaw, the president of Eden Theological Seminary in Webster Groves, has been sending op-eds to local news publications for the past few weeks while arguing against the bill.

He is particularly worried when it comes to young students. He wonders: If a third-grader expresses a religious viewpoint in an assignment, can anyone really expect the teacher not to make some kind of judgement call on the student's beliefs? Greenhaw says the law will put teachers -- especially those with their own religious viewpoint -- in an impossible position.

"Religious expression is not the same as other expressions, that's why it's protected in the Constitution," he says. "I love Christianity, this is why I want to speak out. I don't think religious perspective ought to be shaped the by the state. That's wrong. My worry is that's what's going will take place."

See also: Two Anti-Evolution Bills Die In MO Legislature

Greenhaw's concern is shared, in part, by Washington University law professor Gregory Magarian, who scoffs at Haahr's point about clearing up the "gray area" around the existing laws of religious expression in school.

"That's why we pay judges," he says. Magarian points out that unlike anti-LGBT discrimination, no one has shown anti-religious discrimination to pose a significant problem to Missouri. If Nixon signs the law, Magarian says the result could be an explosion of lawsuits.

"If you're imposing a cure where there's not much a disease, then the unintended consequences loom larger," he says. "I don't think this law is motivated by a concern that school districts have been suppressing the religious expression of Buddhists and Shintos in rural Missouri. This is the Christian majority looking out for the Christian majority."

Continue for to read about ACLU Missouri's concerns that the bill "may subject students to religious coercion in a limitless range of settings."

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We need to keep God out of our public schools. There are people here from around the world with different religions and different gods or goddesses. Forcing God on other's is wrong. It is not the Freedom of Religion. That is for i g God on other's. If you want God in schools well we should allow Lucifer in our public schools.

Alexandra Lugger
Alexandra Lugger

If the student is asked to write about or take a test on scientific theory regarding evolution or Big Bang, and they instead write about God creating the Earth, then yes, they get an F for not doing the assignment. If they want to do an Op Ed or something else involving personal experience, and they choose to mention God, then that's okay as it is their own personal experience or opinion. The fact of the matter is that in order to obtain higher education, you have to at least be able to recognize any and all recognized scientific theories whether or not they fall in line with beliefs.


Alexandra It is wrong to talk about God in our public schools. That shit belongs in Christian schools. Not in our public schools. So I guess a person can do a report how in the bible that dose say Satan is God of this world.


@nightgrave I don't think you understand how free speech works. Also, you are totally misreading what Alexandra said. You are allowed to talk about God in public schools all you want, but you can't pull the religion card to claim an assignment about evolution is against your religion and refuse to do it. Well, you CAN but you are going to get an F on the assignment, as Alex says. Furthermore, teachers and administrators can't and should never be able to teach or proselytize religion of any kind in public schools.

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