Religious Viewpoints Anti-Discrimination Act
Summary of Achievement
In 2007, Governor Perry signed the Religious Viewpoint Anti-Discrimination Act into law. This law does not expand religious expression in schools, but rather reiterates a student’s existing right to expression and clarifies what religious rhetoric is permitted for teachers and administrators.
This Act affirms that freedom of religion should not be mistaken for freedom from religion. While the Constitution prohibits government from sponsoring or endorsing a particular religious view it does not require government to sanitize all dialogue from religious viewpoints in a public setting.The Challenge
Isolated instances in Texas public schools highlighted the confusion and misapplication of law regarding forms of religious expression allowed in our schools. For example, a school prohibited students from wishing troops serving overseas a “Merry Christmas.” Another school reprimanded a first grader for invoking the name and image of Jesus when she was asked what she thinks of when she thinks of Easter.
The lack of clarity often resulted in religious expression being treated as second-class speech and teachers often felt compelled to act as prayer police. Clearly, policies in place were ineffective in both protecting a student’s free speech rights and making clear the freedom that teachers had to allow student’s liberties regarding certain forms of expression.
Governor Perry believes that children do not need to be shielded from religious expression nor be exposed solely to secularism in our schools. Discussion does not lead to indoctrination; rather, it leads to open-mindedness and personal and educational betterment.
The governor supported and signed the Religious Viewpoint Anti-Discrimination Act because it requires a school district to treat a student’s voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint in the same manner that the district treats a student’s expression of a secular or other viewpoint on a permissible subject. This legislation clarifies the law and makes it possible for students to express themselves individually, or in groups, in the same manner as students involved in secular or non-curricular activities.
The Religious Viewpoints and Antidiscrimination Act has confirmed a student’s right to expression without expanding religious expression in schools beyond what is allowed by the Supreme Court. The bill has provided clarity for teachers and administrators in their determination of the forms of religious rhetoric that is permitted.
This Act is aligned with the U.S. Department of Education’s Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools, making it clear that students may pray or study religious materials during non-instructional times. This Act has also made it possible for students to express their religious beliefs in homework and other assignments, and to have that work judged by ordinary academic standards. Religious groups now have a clear understanding that they are afforded the same access to school facilities as other non-curricular groups.