Religious Bill of Rights before Colorado Legislature

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State Senator Dave Schultheis of Colorado Springs has introduced a “Religious Bill of Rights for Individuals Connected to Public Schools” into the Colorado legislature. I have heard through the grapevine that similar bills may be planned for all other states. You may read some of the purported motivation for the bill at Senator Schultheis’s home page, http://www.daveschultheis.com/ and in the bill itself. You may find the bill by going to http://www.leg.state.co.us/ and searching for SB07-138. Hearings have not yet been scheduled.

Briefly, the bill

Requires the state board of education to adopt a “religious bill of rights” for public school students and parents, and for public school teachers and employees

Requires local boards to implement the act and annually distribute copies of the religious bill of rights to students, parents, teachers, and employees of the school district

Further requires local boards to allow students or teachers to opt out of classes or course materials that conflict with their religious beliefs

Makes individual board members personally liable if they do not implement the act

Most of the bill is unexceptionable and defines rights that, I assume, are already rights under existing First Amendment law. For example, the bill says that a teacher may “[t]each a religious topic in public school for historical or literary purposes” or “[u]se a religious greeting as a recognition of a religious holiday.”

Where the bill truly fails, however, is where it mandates that a teacher “not be required to teach a topic that violates his or her religious beliefs and not be disciplined for refusing to teach the topic” and that “[a] high school student [may] opt out of any class or the use of specific course material that is inconsistent with his or her religious beliefs.” Parents of elementary and grade-school students are similarly granted the right to excuse their children from subjects or classes that they disagree with for religious reasons. A religious belief, incidentally, can be proved merely by sworn affirmation: a very loose standard indeed and obviously open to abuse.

Realistically, what subject besides evolution will spur a great many parents, teachers, or students to opt out of a lesson? Enough, that is, to interest the legislature? None. I find it very hard to believe, then, that this bill is not a cover for undermining evolution in favor of a narrow religious agenda.

I’d guess that the bill has little chance of passing. For one thing, you can’t let students opt out of lessons without doing great damage to standardized testing (well, that would perhaps be a benefit of the bill, but state and local school boards and the legislature will not see it that way). Further, local school boards will surely oppose being held personally liable for any violation by their district. Additionally, many schools have dress codes against clothing with divisive messages, and the new bill would surely conflict with such codes. The requirement to inform students and teachers annually is what Senator Schultheis, in another context, might call an unfunded mandate. Thus, we can anticipate that local school boards and the education establishment will oppose the bill.

Acknowledgement. Reed Cartwright, Timothy Sandefur, Mike Antolin, and Linda Rosa unwittingly contributed to this report. Opinions and errors, however, are all mine.

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It is very important not to assume what a bill will actually accomplished based on its title. Titles are generally designed to put a positive spin on the contents of the bill in the hopes that people will not read further or seriously consider the con... Read More

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Other subjects: Geography for the religious flat-earthers? Who take the Bible literally? Reading and writing since it is not taught in Aramaic, the language of Jesus? Geometry since there is not a word about it in the Bible?

And on, and on, and …

Bafflegab. Even in Colorado this won’t pass.

Proven by sworn affirmation? Sounds like the bill violates my religious rights as a Quaker.

Yes, Oklahoma has Senate Bill 951, apparently aimed to accomplish the same goal. Part of the filed bill follows:

“The board of education of each school district in this state shall ensure that the public schools within the district do not require students to agree with a philosophy with which the student has a religious objection. Students shall not be encouraged to lobby or enlist support for or in opposition to matters pending before any elected official or governmental agency as a class requirement if the student has a religious objection.”

Although for the first time in six years OK has no bills aimed directly to support creationism/ID, there are ample opportunities for amendments on other bills, some were filed as ‘shell’ bills with no real content yet described. There are also bills on Bible classes in public schools, vouchers (‘scholarships’)for home-schoolers and private (=religious)schools, and one to permit use of State funds to purchase textbooks not on the State approved list.

I’m not sure how it’s handled these days, but perhaps some teachers/parents/students would want to opt out of sex education class, as well.

Re “Geometry since there is not a word about it in the Bible?”

What about pi = 3 ? ;)

That’s geometry. Uh, sort of.

Henry

I think Article 2 was the right to arm bears.

I’m all for bear equality.

“The board of education of each school district in this state shall ensure that the public schools within the district do not require students to agree with a philosophy with which the student has a religious objection. Students shall not be encouraged to lobby or enlist support for or in opposition to matters pending before any elected official or governmental agency as a class requirement if the student has a religious objection.”

the very first thing i would have done as student would be to claim PE was counter to my religious beliefs.

gawd, but the people who put this kind of legislation together are demented fuckwits.

I was curious as to where the honorable senator thought his bill would lead, so I painted some probable scenarios he hadn’t likely considered for him to think about, and sent them off.

I’ll post any responses i get.

As a member of the First Disestablishmentarian Liberal Church (Reformed), this bill violates my sacrosanct beliefs that government and religion should not be allowed to intermingle. I demand that my religious beliefs be enforced by the state, so that no state can excuse the enforcing of religious beliefs! ;)

Seriously, Anti-evolutionists: nobody can force you or your kiddles to accept these observed and documented facts if you don’t want to. All we can reasonably ask is that the kids going through our public education system be able to correctly answer some questions about it, not have them go through life ignorant about these things simply because you’re afraid their faiths are so weak as to be shattered by simple descriptions of nature.

I watched the Jesus Camp documentary last night. *shiver* It does not surprise me that something like this is happening in Colorado.

So, freedom of religion is *yet another* reason by which school children get to tell the teacher what to teach. Great.

The only upside is that both teacher and student could object mutually, causing it all to grind to a halt.

Meanwhile, in Australia, the debate is about centralising control of the curriculum with the federal government. Anybody want to bet that the central curriculum will be arrived at by “a more consultative process” that will include and perhaps be overridden by the “private” schools (really publicly funded religious schools) that the federal government has been favouring for a decade. They have seen the sort of thing that has happened in Dover and decided that diverse school districts can be undermined but then reversed, whereas a single curriculum has no alternatives to point to.

God help the next generation.

Rustopher.

Well, I guess if this law gets into place. Students will finally be able to stop joking about homework offending their religious beliefs and actually do it. I can actually imagine several students who would actually do it.

I agree with Linda. I’m sure a lot more parents are worried about contraception than evolution – and this is really about parents, not students. This bill would turn sex ed into study hall.

It is difficult to respond to such idiocy. Way back when in elementary school (c. 1958 or so) Mrs. Rich told her third grade class on the opening day of the school year that the principal, via the new PA system, would lead us all in the Pledge of Allegiance and the Lord’s Prayer each morning. She sweetly and succinctly informed us that all students, as individuals, could choose to participate or not. It was that simple. It was left up to us kids. I chose to participate at first, then realized that the sentiments of these public confessions of fealty did not reflect what I felt or intended in my young mind. So I found the middle ground by standing mutely with the class. To my thinking that was fine. And it must have been because no one ever called me to task for it. The same approach has worked admirably ever since.

So, tell me again why we need a new law to prevent superstitious people from being offended by the ways of the world?

What is it about Colorado Springs that makes it a magnet for religeous nuts?

requires local boards to allow students or teachers to opt out of classes or course materials that conflict with their religious beliefs

It won’t require colleges to accept students who don’t meet academic standards, will it?

Re “Students will finally be able to stop joking about homework offending their religious beliefs and actually do it.”

Hey, where were these guys when I was in school? ;)

Henry

What is it about Colorado Springs that makes it a magnet for religeous nuts?

The answer? Financial incentives.

“[Colorado Springs] spawned a tax-cutting movement, which in 1992 pushed through a Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights that bans Colorado’s politicians from increasing any tax without first getting the electorate’s permission. Second, in 1991, the town’s leaders, battling with a recession that had left it the “repossession capital of America,” used $5 million worth of incentives to lure Focus on the Family, a Christian ministry founded by Jim Dobson, from California.”

Hmmm, I wonder if that’s $5 million dollars of taxpayer money for Focus on the Family.

long before Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs was ultraconservative. My best guess is that the presence of the Air Force Academy and its large active and retired military population drew in Fundamentalist Christian ministries. The Academy has had its issues with intolerance to non Christian (and non Born Again Christian) cadets moreso than the other service academies.

Realistically, what subject besides evolution will spur a great many parents, teachers, or students to opt out of a lesson? Enough, that is, to interest the legislature?

Sex-ed, the Nazi Holocaust, our forefathers’ treatment of the “heathen savages” who were here before them, any controversial chapter in our country’s history*, and just about any relatively new scientific theory or idea that the current generation of parents either don’t understand or vaguely suspect is “anti-God.” And those are just the ones on my mind right now. The sky’s the limit with this sort of thing: the intent of such bills is clearly to give the most rigid zealots virtual veto-power over every aspect of education policy.

*Notice how eager the “Christian” right are to rewrite US history and edit out all the bad or non-devout-right-wing-Christian bits? Remember what the Wedge Document said about replacing science with a “theistic” “understanding” of the Universe?

Yes, please let it pass.. That would make it possible for me to legally get my kids out of any Christian brain washing the school wants to inject to the classroom. O, you discuss ID in the classroom, my kid does not have to go. Comparative religions, mostly about Christianity and not proportional to the world distribution, out. Bring it on.…

“Excuse me, Coach? I can’t play dodgeball because it’s against my religion. I’m a Jedi and I’m only allowed to dodge balls when armed with dangerous plasma weaponry.”

That’ll work!

It sure was nice of Senator Dave to explain to us that the Seperation of Church and State was just a figment of our collective imaginations.

He got the establishment part right, but he stopped reading there and missed the free exercise clause. That part is kinda important, too.

I guess all it takes to get elected to the Colorado Senate is a nice suit and a bible.

Someone needs to remind Dave that a few hundred years ago, people would have opted out of most science classes because heliocentrism conflicted with their religious beliefs.

Senator Dave is secretly a Rastafarian, a church that bases its rites on the smoking on marijuana. Of course he thinks the separation of church and state is a figment of our collective imagination, Kevin. After a sacred rite involving the holy Ganja, Sen. Dave thinks EVERYTHING is a figment of our collective imagination! The REAL intent of this bill is to subject the innocent school children of Colorado to REEFER MADNESS!! Don’t delay!!! Contact all your not-too-bright right-wing friends and tell them Senator Dave has introduced a bill to LEGALIZE MARIJUANA!!!! Then sit back and watch the show.…

I got a response from the Senator today.

scary.

anybody wanna see it?

Oo, sure.

Note the wording and specifics of my questions were intended to ferret out his real position, like whether he is a “true believer”, or merely playing politics, which they apparently did quite nicely. I won’t add additional commentary, as anybody should be able to recognize the type and value of the good Senator’s responses.

question:

you state in your reasoning for this bill that:

-there is an increasing intolerance of religious beliefs

Have you considered the possibility that the level of tolerance is exactly the same, but it’s the beliefs themselves that have become intolerant?

I believe it would be difficult to show that the beliefs becoming more intolerant. As society has drifted more and more from the nation’s core values, it seems as if society has moved far enough away that they now see many of the traditional values as “extreme.”

question:

You should be very specific here, as actually, very few religious issues run counter to the standard educational curriculum in the US.

The bill is very specific, as you have probably notices from your reading of it. All the rights enumerated have been the subject of court cases.

Q: In fact, those can be held to a mere handful, even if you consider the most intolerant of religious beliefs. Can you name them, I wonder?

If true, then there should’t be much debate, would you say?

Actually, the fact that you may find this bill out of line in some way actually proves the point that it is needed. As you see the CEA come against it, there will be even further proof.

Q: Take it to its logical conclusion, and any yahoo can challenge any educational standard based on some obscure, tenuous claim to “faith” in some pseudo-religious precept.

Actually, your strong resistance seems to prove my case. The courts have shown that courts have drawn a line between learning about materials that clash with one’s faith, and being forced to change one’s values by the school. The brightest dividing line is whether the teaching has a coercive effect on the child changing his or her values.

Q: Perhaps you need to calculate what the effect of your proposed bill actually would be, and rather than pursue your current line, work with legislators to understand why educational standards exist, and why none of us as responsible citizens should be exempt from them, for any reason.

After all, this IS a democracy (well, a republic, anyway), and the only way to truly maintain a democracy is by participation of a well educated electorate. If you allow any average joe to bypass educational standards simply to avoid confrontation with some perceived slight, you might as well not have an education system at all

Your comment seems to imply that strongly-held religious beliefs run contrary to being well-educated. I’d have to disagree with you on that point. I believe you know religious people that are very brilliant. I certainly do. I believe you are missing the point here. I am only interested in informing those associated with public schools as to what religious rights they have at the intersection of the public school.

Q: I suggest you think about the ramifications of your actions for the long term, rather than placating a portion of your constituency in the short term.

Actually, your comments imply that I run bills that placate a portion of my constituency. If you have followed my votes/bills, you will see that I attempt to placate no-one, but rather do what I feel is correct and in the best interests of the citizens of Colorado.

(the reader might want to gander at the good senator’s other proposed bills to judge that for themselves. Bring along a good irony meter.)

The senator sounds like politicians worldwide, in his non-answer. I tried to get my MP to tell me why his party was opposed to gay marriage; he went on at great length about parliamentary procedure but never did tell me why they opposed the bill. He’s no longer my MP. Hurrah.

The senator sounds like politicians worldwide, in his non-answer.

hmm, i dunno, I thought the Senator’s responses spoke volumes. he clearly painted himself as completely delusional, which is really what I was asking him.

You have to find out where a politician is really coming from, before there is really any point to even asking a detail-type question.

reading the Senator’s responses, for example, would you think there would be any point in asking him exactly what issues he thought merited the proposed measure to begin with?

Once you have spoken with a few diehard creobots, you can immediately recognize the pattern with just a few simple questions. Moreover, from previous experience, one knows the probability of productive discussion with such an individual is near 0.

saves lots of time.

Someone interpret this for me:

As society has drifted more and more from the nation’s core values, it seems as if society has moved far enough away that they now see many of the traditional values as “extreme.”

“Core values”? “Traditional values?” Society drifting?

I’m apparently not fluent in English, since it seems to me that he’s saying that society doesn’t values don’t equal society’s values any more.

no, I think you heard it right. No reason to challenge your grasp of english.

I Wrote:

… that he’s saying that society doesn’t values don’t equal society’s values any more.

Sir TJ Wrote:

no, I think you heard it right. No reason to challenge your grasp of english.

Actually, there is. I should’ve said:

…that he’s saying that society’s values don’t equal society’s values any more.

I guess my grasp of english is good enough that it was perfectly clear to me what you meant, and yes, your interpretation of his statement is correct.

*shrug*

It’s very common for creationists to project their own values on to eveyone they contact.

hence the reason for the “science is religion” projection, and why they can’t get over the fact that authoritarianism is not a big thing in science.

again, the questions i posed were specifically designed to find out if he really is a creationist, and, he is.

Sir TJ — Of course he is. He creates laws. ;-)

Sen. Dave’s response to Sir Toejam is frightening. He’s arguing from a completely closed system;”The fact that you may find this bill out of line… proves the point that it is needed… Actually your strong resistance seems to prove my case.” Then, having established that he considers his view the only correct one, he adds, “…The brightest dividing line is whether the teaching has a coercive effect on the child.…” It’s pretty obvious that Senator Dave’s intention is to make darn sure that the teaching in Colorado public schools does have a coercive effect on the child, and that the little darlings get coerced to think exactly the same way he does. It’s time to remind ourselves that the purpose for the separation of church and state is not to suppress religion but to allow citizens to worship as they see fit, without interference from self-appointed governmental thought police like Senator Dave.

It’s pretty obvious that Senator Dave’s intention is to make darn sure that the teaching in Colorado public schools does have a coercive effect on the child, and that the little darlings get coerced to think exactly the same way he does.

yup. I told you it was scary.

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This page contains a single entry by Matt Young published on February 3, 2007 3:12 PM.

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