Governor Rick Perry today, joined by state legislators and Texas families, ceremonially signed House Bill 3678, the Religious Viewpoint Anti-Discrimination Act. The bill, authored by Rep. Charlie Howard, does not expand religious expression in schools, but rather reiterates a student's existing right to expression.
"In a society where lawsuits long-ago replaced honest discussion, a culture of fear has led to limitations on our freedoms," said Gov. Perry. "This trend has been especially troubling in our public schools; places created for the exchange of ideas, the expression of values and the shaping of lives."
Within certain parameters, the United States Supreme Court ruled religious discussion in schools legal. However, in an effort to promote a neutral learning environment, some schools are unintentionally suppressing religious expression.
The misapplication of the law is also attributable to a number of Texas school districts' whose practices and policies have not been modified to recognize permissible expressions. HB 3678 requires school districts to adopt and implement a policy establishing a limited public forum for student speakers at school events and ensures other protections for students expressing their religious viewpoint. The legislation provides a model policy that districts may choose to adopt, which includes protection for a student's expression of a religious viewpoint; guidelines for student speakers at graduation ceremonies and other non-graduation events; protection for religious expression in class assignments; and freedom to organize religious groups and activities.
Isolated instances in Texas public schools led to the creation of HB 3678. In one case, a school prohibited students from wishing a "Merry Christmas" to troops serving overseas. 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.
"It is my hope that this bill and its guidelines for preserving freedom of faith-related speech will lower the tension level in our schools. Under its clear guidelines, teachers can teach and administrators can lead, knowing they are following a sensible, time-honored, and legal approach to self-expression," said Gov. Perry.
House Bill 3678 took effect June 8, 2007.