Public school no place for religious war

ABC, Associated Press

Turns out the “Charlie Brown Christmas bill” wasn’t just a meaningless repetition of longstanding laws and rights, after all.

Senate Bill 17, which Gov. Matt Bevin has already signed into law, was touted as a response to a Kentucky principal’s decision in 2015 to delete a Bible verse from a student production of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

The new law reaffirms old protections and practices under the First Amendment.

Also tucked into the legislation is an untested provision that could once again push Kentucky into the courts on shaky legal ground:

The state’s public schools, universities and colleges must now ensure that student religious or political organizations can exclude other students on the basis of their beliefs.

The law’s passage has produced a flurry of headlines around the country such as this one in Vox: “Kentucky’s religious freedom law gives students the green light to discriminate against LGBTQ peers.”

Vox also reports “the new law comes after the governor declared 2017 the ‘year of the Bible.’” (As far as we know, no national news outlet has noted that Bevin also declared 2016 the year of the Bible.)

The new law is a victory for the Family Foundation of Kentucky, which provided the language.

But it’s no win for students, educators or Kentuckians.

At a time when political and religious divisions are unusually inflamed, why make battlegrounds of schools? And who wants to be the principal who must defend the Campus Crusade for White Supremacy’s membership policy?

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling upheld a California public university’s decision to revoke the status of a student religious organization. The Christian Legal Society lost its space on campus after requiring members to sign a statement of beliefs, including that same-sex marriage is a sin.

The Christian Legal Society could still gather as a group and exclude whomever it wanted — just not with the support of a public university that has a non-discrimination policy of equal treatment for all.

No court has ruled on whether a state can force public schools and colleges to provide space and recognition to student groups who discriminate on the basis of religious or political beliefs.

Kentucky may be the test case.

The Kentucky Equality Federation plans a court challenge — but first needs a victim of discrimination under this misguided law.

Let’s all hope there never is one.