The Senate gave bipartisan support Friday to a bill that details the rights of public students to express religious viewpoints in school, including in their homework and artwork and on their clothing.
On a vote of 31-3, the Senate approved Senate Bill 17, sponsored by Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London, and sent it to the House for its consideration.
Robinson said the bill is designed to clearly state students’ rights in the statute, “so that the public school can be a place where religious and political ideas can be expressed without fear of suppression.”
He said the idea for the measure started in December 2015, when Johnson County school officials prohibited students from reading religious scripture in a school play, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
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Robinson said his bill also allows religious student groups access to school buildings during non-school hours, allows students to speak at public events to mention religious and political viewpoints, and allows public college students to exercise their freedom of speech on college campuses, especially in outdoor areas.
Senate Bill 17 also would allow a teacher to use the Bible when teaching about religion “without providing religious instruction,” and to teach about religious holidays “in a secular manner.”
Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, asked Robinson whether his bill precludes other religious books, such as the Koran, from being taught. Robinson said he has no objection to teaching about other religions.
The Senate accepted an amendment by Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Louisville, that deleted a line in the bill that said “a teacher shall not observe holidays as religious events or promote such observance by students.”
Critics of the bill, including the ACLU of Kentucky, said the measure is unnecessary and could cause legal confusion.
The three “no” votes were cast by Louisville Democrats Perry Clark, Denise Harper Angel and Morgan McGarvey.