This came out of the state House of Representatives this morning:
State Rep. John Bennett said today that the state should not ban free speech by students in schools.
House Bill 1940, by Bennett, would allow school boards to adopt policies giving students the right to deliver an inspirational message, even if it has a religious theme, at school assemblies.
The legislation was approved by the House Common Education Committee.
“I think our constitutional right to free speech trumps any tradition in our schools of separating church and state,” said Bennett, R-Sallisaw. “It may be appropriate to limit what a school official can say about religion, but I think students should be able to talk about their faith outside of the classroom at school assemblies.
Bennett said the bill is not partisan in nature, but simply about protecting constitutional rights.
“The Declaration of Independence refers to God four times. In some public schools, children can hardly refer to God one time without being sent to the principal’s office,” said Bennett. “Religious expression is being treated as second-class speech in many schools. The Constitution does not turn schools into anti-religion zones, nor teachers into prayer police, nor students who express their faith into enemies of the state. Instead, schools are required to ensure neutrality in their approach to voluntary religious expression just as they must show neutrality towards a secular belief. This bill pushes schools to settle this issue and adopt policies with an appropriate approach to religious expression.”
The legislation would give student volunteers organizing the assembly the authority to determine the content of a message and who will deliver it.
If approved by the House Calendar Committee, House Bill 1940 will be available for a hearing on the House floor.