Oklahoma House passes scholarly religious freedom bill

The bill would require Oklahoma public schools to allow and protect religious student expressions and allow religious beliefs in homework.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Published: March 15, 2013
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A measure billed to protect religious student expressions in Oklahoma's public schools was criticized Thursday as being nothing more than a political statement.

The House of Representatives voted 79-13 to pass House Bill 1940. It now goes to the Senate.

HB 1940 would allow school districts to adopt policies allowing students to deliver religious viewpoints and inspirational messages at student assemblies. It is similar to a measure passed in 2008, but vetoed by then-Gov. Brad Henry.

Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw, the bill's author, said it would require public schools to allow and protect religious student expression and to allow students to express religious beliefs in homework, art and other assignments. The bill, modeled after a Texas law, would require school districts to treat the voluntary student expressions of a religious viewpoint the same as voluntary student expressions of a secular viewpoint.

Religious group access

It also would require school districts to adopt a “Model Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Policy.” The bill also would require schools to provide the same access to school buildings for religious groups as it does for other student groups and to allow students to organize prayer groups.