The Kentucky Senate has voted to approve a legislation that would protect the rights of students to express religious beliefs in public school, including in their homework, artwork and on their clothing.
Senate Bill 17, sponsored by Republican Sen. Albert Robinson, was approved on Friday by the GOP-led Senate on a 31–3 vote. It has been sent to the House, which is also run by Republicans, for consideration.
The legislation contains a provision that would permit local school boards to allow schools to sponsor "artistic or theatrical programs" that advance learning of cultural or religious heritage, according to Associated Press.
Robinson said that he came up with the bill in December 2015, when Johnson County school officials prohibited students from reading religious scripture in the play, "A Charlie Brown Christmas."
Under the legislation, religious student groups will be granted access to school buildings during non-school hours, and the policy will allow the students to express religious and political viewpoints while speaking at public events. Public college students would also be allowed to exercise their freedom of speech in college campuses, especially in outdoor areas, according to Lexington Herald Leader.
Additionally, the measure would allow teachers to use the Bible or other scripture for the secular study of religion, its history and its role in the U.S. However, teachers are not allowed to provide religious instruction.
When Robinson was asked by a colleague whether his bill precludes other religious texts from being taught, he replied by saying he has no objection to teaching about other religions.
Robinson said that the legislation would help guide school administrators who are afraid of facing legal action if they allow students to "exercise their rights."
Democratic Sen. Julian Carroll, who supported the bill, complained about the lack of attention to teaching moral values in schools. The Senate accepted his amendment to the bill that deleted a line that stated: "a teacher shall not observe holidays as religious events or promote such observance by students."
Kate Miller of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky argued during a committee hearing on Thursday that the bill's framework for Bible literacy study lacks sufficient guidelines that would prevent the study from "straying from teaching to preaching."
She added that the measure could cause confusion about what is "constitutionally permissible" in classrooms and that it could "invite legal challenges."