The Kentucky state House of Representatives passed a bill on Monday that would secure public school students’ freedom to express their religious and political beliefs in their school work, clothing, and in other methods.
Senate Bill 17, which was passed by the House with an 81-8 vote, is now headed to the governor’s desk for signature. The Senate voted in favor of the bill 31-3 in February.
The bill would prohibit school officials from restricting students’ religious and political expressions in various methods at public schools and public universities in the state, including in their homework, artwork, and speeches. Students would also be able to wear clothing that display religious messages, use school facilities outside of class times for religious club meetings, and announce religious club meetings through school media.
Supporters of the measure said that the bill simply affirms the rights guaranteed to students by the Constitution, but said that they felt the need for the bill due to recent occurrences in which students were prohibited from expressing their religious beliefs.
“We’ve seen in other locales where the clear constitutional right to religious liberty has been imposed upon,” Republican Rep. Tim Moore was quoted by River City News as saying. “It is right that we in Kentucky make very clear as a body — as our fellows down the hallway have done by an overwhelming bipartisan majority — that we will protect the right to express religious and political viewpoints in public schools and public postsecondary institutions.”
“All this legislation does is put into law and recognize those constitutional facts,” Republican Rep. Stan Lee was quoted as saying by the Lexington Herald-Leader.
However, opponents of the bill said that the measure is unnecessary and may give some a greater license to discriminate against the LGBT community.
Democratic Rep. Jim Wayne said that if the bill is passed, “in some areas it may be OK for a student to call a gay student a sinner based on religious beliefs.”
“I believe religion should be expressed in church or in the privacy of my home, not in public schools,” Kentucky Today quoted Democratic Rep. Joni Jenkins as saying.
According to the Associated Press, the potential for discriminatory intent was not the focus of discussion on the House floor when the bill was being deliberated.