Saw on Phil Plait’s blog this morning that the Colorado state Legislature is considering a “religious bill of rights” for students. Phil’s got a lot of good commentary about it already, but I thought I’d take a look through it myself and see what I thought; local issues are pretty darn important.
What caught my eye first are a couple bits out of the very beginning, which are justifications for why we’d need something like this:
(b) MANY INDIVIDUALS ARE UNAWARE OF THEIR EXISTING CONSTITUTIONAL RELIGIOUS RIGHTS. BECAUSE THESE RIGHTS ARE COMING UNDER INCREASING ATTACK IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM, A METHOD TO RECOGNIZE, PROMOTE, AND ENFORCE THESE RIGHTS IS OF GREAT IMPORTANCE TO STUDENTS, PARENTS, TEACHERS, AND EMPLOYEES.
(e) THERE IS A GROWING PERCEPTION AMONG CITIZENS THAT PUBLIC SCHOOLS ARE HOSTILE TO INDIVIDUAL EXPRESSION AND EXERCISE OF RELIGIOUS BELIEFS, AND PARENTS OR GUARDIANS WHOSE CHILDREN FEEL THEIR RELIGIOUS RIGHTS ARE BEING SUPPRESSED OR THREATENED ARE REMOVING THEIR CHILDREN FROM PUBLIC SCHOOLS, THUS SUBSTANTIALLY REDUCING THE SCHOOL DISTRICT’S PUPIL COUNT AND THEREFORE ITS REVENUE
Frankly, kids DON’T have free speech in public school1. I don’t think they ever have. In some schools, there are uniforms are strict dress codes, often times out of concern regarding kids wearing gang colors to school and making the environment less safe. That’s how it was when I went to school here, and in some places it’s become a lot more restrictive in the time since I graduated. There are a lot of rules in place for schools in regards to speech in general that are supposed to be there to guarantee a safe learning environment. Fred Phelps may be allowed to run around in the outside world with a sign that screams “God Hates Fags” because it’s his Constitutional right to be a hate-filled douchebag, but that sort of thing is not currently allowed in schools because it creates an extremely hostile environment for students who are, for example, perceived to be gay.
So that’s the first question – do kids in public schools have a right to free speech as strong as that of adults outside of schools? Does that right mean they have the unfettered right to make life hell for other students? School – and upper level schools in particular – are already a flaming cesspit of kids trying to find an other to demonize. So does a kid get a right to free speech that extends to creating an extremely hostile – possibly deadly – environment for other students?
You may think I’m going a little far here, but consider that there has been some conservative Christian shrieking about how the Matthew Shepard Act is totally going to restrict their religious freedom. Because apparently, hate crimes against gays are essential to religious freedom in this country.
Which sort of leads in to this idea that people have a perception their religious freedom is being impinged upon. As mentioned above, because it’s now a hate crime with a harsher sentence to beat someone else to death because they’re gay. We’ve also seen some sneaky attempts to get mandatory prayer back in to schools, disguised as a moment of silence. Some outright believe that America is going to hell in a handbasket because mandatory prayer has been struck down; they don’t seem to realize that prayer is just fine and dandy and protected as long as it’s not mandated by the school. So frankly, I’m not that impressed by the “PERCEPTION AMONG CITIZENS THAT PUBLIC SCHOOLS ARE HOSTILE TO INDIVIDUAL EXPRESSION AND EXERCISE OF RELIGIOUS BELIEFS” because it sure smells like the ol’ Christian persecution complex to me. I’m sure it’s not pleasant to be in a privileged group that is slowly losing its privilege and being treated like everyone else. But this particular bill is just going to be more mental justification for the persecution complex, I think – “See? Our religion is under attack! We need a religious bill of rights!”
Scanning through the student’s rights section, there are some things I really take exception to on principle:
(IV) SING RELIGIOUS SONGS ALONG WITH SECULAR SONGS AS PART OF A SCHOOL-SPONSORED OR CURRICULUM-RELATED PROGRAM;
Should there be religious songs as part of a school sponsored program to begin with? Is this the school promoting religion?
(VI) WEAR RELIGIOUS GARB ON A PUBLIC SCHOOL CAMPUS, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO CLOTHING WITH A RELIGIOUS MESSAGE;
See “God hates fags,” above.
(VII) EXPRESS HIS OR HER RELIGIOUS BELIEFS OR SELECT RELIGIOUS MATERIALS WHEN RESPONDING TO A SCHOOL ASSIGNMENT IF HIS OR HER RESPONSE REASONABLY MEETS THE EDUCATIONAL PURPOSE OF THE ASSIGNMENT;
See Phil Plait on this one.
And for the teachers:
(V) ANSWER A STUDENT’S QUESTION ON A RELIGIOUS TOPIC;
Honestly, if I were a parent, I would take SERIOUS exception to this.
(VI) NOT BE REQUIRED TO TEACH A TOPIC THAT VIOLATES HIS OR HER RELIGIOUS BELIEFS AND NOT BE DISCIPLINED FOR REFUSING TO TEACH THE TOPIC;
Again, see Phil Plait. But I would also add that this one really pisses me off, just like pharmacists refusing to fill birth control prescriptions. If you disagree with something, that’s fine. How about being a responsible adult and not putting yourself in a position where you’ll have to do something you find morally repugnant, instead of an arrogant fuckwad that does it on purpose in order to push your personal beliefs on others?
(a) A HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT TO OPT OUT OF ANY CLASS OR THE USE OF SPECIFIC COURSE MATERIAL THAT IS INCONSISTENT WITH HIS OR HER RELIGIOUS BELIEFS; OR
Have fun in regular college, kid. That shit don’t fly there.
Though really, I have another issue with the above. Though we all do it to some extent, it’s pretty stupid to isolate yourself completely from viewpoints that disagree with your own. If nothing else, disagreement is how we learn to flex our intellectual muscles. Of course the most obvious application of this is creationism versus evolution, in allowing a kid to completely hide from any material relating to evolution. But technically, this also applies to world history that covers the ancient world, since there were civilizations that existed long before the creationist god created the world. Or if we want to get super ridiculous, the definition of pi in the Bible is actually 3, not 3.14. Oops.
Personally, I don’t think public school should be a place where you get to be sheltered entirely from anything and everything that disagrees with your worldview. You’re certainly not being sheltered from other kids that may disagree. I’m sure there are parents who disagree with me, though I hope they realize that their kids are in for a serious shock if they go on to higher education at anywhere that isn’t Liberty University.
Honestly, I think it probably wouldn’t hurt if a school wanted to cover its butt on religious grounds by having a pamphlet available about all the relevant Supreme Court rulings; that would actually be quite educational. Citizens of all ages really ought to be aware of what their Constitutional rights are and what they mean. But this thing isn’t framed in relation to the Constitution of the United States. Instead, the framing of this bill feeds the ridiculous Christian persecution complex, and really pushes the bounds on several things. It’s one thing to let a curious kid know that yes, their ability to go have a prayer group each morning at the flagpole before school is Constitutionally protected. It’s another entirely to give a teacher tacit approval to deviate from the curriculum because they have a religious disagreement with it.
I’m really hoping this one dies of neglect in committee.
1 – Thinking back to high school, I think you could make a good argument that schools aren’t even on the same PLANET as the rest of us.