Religious freedom codified into bill

Published 9:53 am Wednesday, January 22, 2014

FRANKLIN—When Edna King brought up a new Virginia senate bill codifying religious viewpoint expression to the Franklin City Public School Board on Thursday, she didn’t know it would pass so quickly.

But the bill, SB 236, was before the Senate Tuesday, and it passed 20-18. Locally, Sen. John Cosgrove (R-14) voted in favor of it, while Sen L. Louise Lucas (D-18) was one of the nays.

Sen. Charles W. Carrico (R-40), who was the chief patron of the bill, said one thing that the bill will help is enabling public schools to avoid lawsuits.

“It is codifying a constitutional sound policy in the area of law that otherwise would have pitfalls,” he said. “It takes administrators out of the middle. It allows students to speak freely when given assignments, and express their views more comfortably.”

The law codifies expression in speech, what they wear/create and also student organizations.

Regarding speech, when a student is given an opportunity to publicly speak, such as at a football game or at graduation, it prohibits school administrators from censoring what they might say in regards to religion, Carrico said.

It would also apply to assignments, he said.

“If you were asked to do some type of painting, the art teacher could not prohibit you from doing a picture of Calvary with three crosses — because that is you expressing yourself,” Carrico said.

It also further codifies an earlier bill regarding religious wear.

“If a student wants to wear a necklace with a cross, or a T-shirt, the school is not to prohibit it, as long as it is not obscene,” Carrico said. “It is their effort to express their beliefs.”

He also talked about how the bill, if turned to law, would help with student organizations.

“If school divisions have Beta clubs, or all others, then they cannot discriminate against a religious club that has been formed by the students,” Carrico said. “They should have equal opportunities. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes, for example, would have the right to meet on school grounds, just like other clubs do.”

King said the bill might impact the dress code at Franklin City Public Schools, but she didn’t see that as a problem as long as they were kept aware of what becomes law.

“If it puts an emphasis on Christianity back into our schools, then I am all for it,” she said. “I do believe, as a Christian, and I speak for only myself, that emphasis is a good thing.”