As believers, we all lament decisions by courts and politicians that have “kicked God out of our public schools.” But what if we—the family of believers—stopped lamenting and instead decided to do something about it?
Well, we are! Just this week, there was a hearing on a bill introduced in the Kansas Legislature by Rep. Rene Erickson that will protect students’ and educators’ important religious speech freedoms (HB2288). As we approach the day where bills have to leave their chamber of origin, cross over, things have begun to move at a frantic pace under the dome.
Over the last several years several school districts in Kansas have been specifically targeted by an out-of-state group known as the Freedom from Religion Foundation. In fact, because of the demands of this group, coaches are now required to be as far away as possible whenever their players choose to exercise their constitutionally recognized right to express their faith by kneeling to pray after a game.
The group, based in Wisconsin, has a reputation for threatening small school districts attempting to silence religious speech and squelch any public displays of faith. Freedom from Religion Foundation typically targets small schools, towns, or even senior living homes which lack the means to fight back.
Whether public school staff can kneel or bow a head in prayer with their students is considered by some as a gray area of the law, but Family Policy Alliance of Kansas® and Representative Renee Erickson believe that this should be a very clear area of the law—students should be allowed to pray at school, and teachers and coaches should be allowed to join them.
Representative Erickson introduced a simple, common-sense bill to clarify that:
- Students can lead prayers and faith-based groups at school.
- Students can pray or express a religious viewpoint in their speeches (at graduation, for example) and in class assignments.
- Teachers can participate in student-led prayers.
In committee Thursday, legislators and opponents of the law openly said that students in public school do not have academic freedom and if they want to pray in school they should go to private school. Opponents also misconstrued the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case of Coach Kennedy.
Coach Kennedy was a coach in Washington state who lost his job when he refused to stop kneeling with his players. The 9th Circuit, which has jurisdiction over that case, showed clear hostility to his religious expression in their ruling against him. This month, the US Supreme Court refused to hear Coach Kennedy’s appeal, but not because they agreed with the 9th circuit’s opinion. Justice Alito made very clear – they want to hear this case, but they were not given enough facts in the record to make the decision. Justice Alito indicated that the Court would in fact like to hear a case on this topic. Coach Kennedy’s was not, however one they could take.
This case is even more reason why H.B. 2288 is needed. If you would like to read more information about the hearing read this article in the Ottawa Herald. To encourage your legislator to support this legislation go to our Action Center where you can find your legislator’s contact information using your zip code and/or address. If you want to thank Rep. Erickson for carrying this bill, you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be on the lookout for calls to action on this legislation in the next week as we work to get it passed by the House.
Thank you for standing with us,
Brittany Jones, Esq.
Director of Advocacy