The Missouri House of Representatives has given initial approval to legislation which would protect the religious freedoms of students in the public school system. The House has given first-round approval to the Student
Religious Liberties Act, sponsored by Representative Elijah Haah
r of Springfield, by a vote of 128-20.
The proposal, House Bill 1303, would guarantee the free speech rights of students who choose to share their religious values in the public school setting. Public school teachers and administrators would be prohibited from discriminating against students based on their religious expression or religious viewpoints. Students would be assured the right to voice their religious sentiments in the same manner and to the same degree any secular viewpoint may be expressed.
The bill would also guarantee students the right to share their religious beliefs in written and oral assignments and in homework and artwork free from discrimination based on the religious content of their work. Academic assignments would have to be judged based purely on their relevance to the subject matter being discussed.
Representative Haahr says the purpose of his legislation is to reinforce the posture of school district officials in defending the religious civil liberties of students. He points out that school districts often face intimidation and threats of litigation from atheist groups determined to stifle religious expression. Representative Haahr also says that some school officials falsely believe that the constitutional theory of the "separation of church and state" requires them to exclude religious discussion from the classroom.
House Bill 1303 makes clear that students may pray and engage in religious activities before, during, and after the school day "in the same manner and to the same extent that students may engage in non-religious activities or expression." Students may organize and participate in prayer groups, religious clubs, and other religious gatherings to the same extent that students may meet and participate in other noncurricular student activities and groups.
Religious activities may not be disruptive of scheduled instructional time or other educational activities, and may not impede access to school facilities or mobility on school premises. School officials retain the authority to
maintain order and discipline on school property and to protect the safety of students, employees, and visitors on the school campus.
Students may also wear clothing, accessories, and jewelry that includes religious messages and symbols in the same manner and to the same extent that clothing and accessories containing secular messages are permitted.
School districts would be required to establish what is known in legal terms as a "limited public forum" at all school functions at which students are allowed to speak. In those cases, students would have the freedom to
share their religious values on a voluntary basis.
Should the General Assembly give final approval to the Student Religious Liberties Act, it would function as enabling legislation for Amendment 2, adopted by Missouri voters in August of 2012. Referred to as the Prayer Amendment, that proposal wrote language into Missouri's Constitution protecting the right of students to the free exercise of religion in the public schools. Amendment 2 was endorsed by Missouri citizens by a resounding vote of 83 to 17 percent.
The need for Representative Haahr's bill is illustrated by countless incidents that occur on a continuing basis in
public schools across the country. The latest episode occurred at Carillon Elementary School in Oviedo, Florida.Gabriella Perez
, a five year-old kindergarten student, was sitting at the lunch table and bowed her head to pray as she prepared to eat her lunch. A teacher in the lunch room told her, "You're not allowed to do that." The young girl replied, "But it's good to pray." The teacher responded, "It's not good." When the young girl proceed to pray again, the teacher once again chastised her.
"My child should not feel conflicted about prayer with respect to trying to follow rules and obey authority," says
Marcos Perez, Gabriella's father. "We tried to reaffirm to her and let her know that according to our family values and Biblical values that she did nothing wrong."
School officials denied that the incident occurred, and said that students are indeed permitted to pray over their lunch if they wish. Jeremiah Dys, an attorney for the Liberty Institute, says that the school district owes Gabriella an apology. "Saying a five year-old cannot pray over her chicken nuggets and mac and cheese simply isn't in line with the Constitution."
Below you will find a record of how your state representative voted on the Student Religious Liberties Act. We suggest you contact them to thank those legislators who voted for the bill, or encourage those who didn't to rethink their position. You can do so by
using this link:Your State Representative
The bill will move on to the Senate after one more vote in the House. We encourage you to contact your state senator to encourage their vote for House Bill 1303. You can do so by using this link:Your State Senator
State Representatives voting YES on House Committee Substitute for House Bill 1303:
Allen, Anderson, Austin, Bahr, Barnes, Bernskoetter, Berry, Black, Brattin, Brown, Burlison, Butler, Carpenter, Cierpiot, Conway (Pat), Conway (Kathie), Cookson, Cox, Crawford, Cross, Curtman, Diehl, Dohrman, Dugger, Ellington, Elmer, Engler, English, Englund, Entlicher, Fitzpatrick, Fitzwater, Flanigan, Fraker, Frame, Franklin, Frederick, Funderburk, Gannon, Gosen, Grisamore, Guernsey, Haahr, Haefner, Hampton, Harris, Hicks, Higdon, Hinson, Hoskins, Hough, Houghton, Hubbard, Hurst, Johnson, Jones (Caleb), Jones (Tim), Justus, Keeney, Kelley (Mike), Kelly (Chris), Koenig, Kolkmeyer, Korman, Kratky, Lair, Lant, Lauer, Leara, Lichtenegger, Love, Lynch, Marshall, Mayfield, McCaherty, McCann Beatty, McDonald, McGaugh, McKenna, McManus, McNeil, Miller, Mims, Molendorp, Montecillo, Moon, Morris, Muntzel, Neely, Nichols, Norr, Parkinson, Pfautsch, Phillips, Pogue, Redmon, Redhder, Reiboldt, Remole, Rhoads, Richardson, Riddle, Rizzo, Roorda, Ross, Rowden, Rowland, Runions, Scharnhorst, Schatz, Schieber, Schieffer, Shull, Shumake, Solon, Sommer, Stream, Swan, Thomson, Torpey, Walker, Webber, White, Wieland, Wilson, Wood, Wright, and Zerr
State Representatives voting NO on HCS HB 1303:
Anders, Burns, Colona, Curtis, Dunn, Gardner, Hummel, Kirkton, LaFaver, May, Meredith, Mitten, Morgan, Newman, Otto, Pierson, Schupp, Smith, Swearingen, and Walton Gray
State Representatives voting PRESENT:
State Representatives ABSENT WITH LEAVE:
Cornejo, Davis, Ellinger, Gatschenberger, Hansen, Hodges, Messenger, Neth, Pike, and Spencer