The Religion Clause blog reports that Arizona governor Jan Brewer (a Republican who assumed the governorship after it was vacated by Democrat Janet Napolitano) has signed into law the Students’ Religious Liberties Act. This law gives blanket protection to religious expression by students in school, including the right to pray at school, insert religious themes into coursework, and to wear religiously-themed jewelry and clothing. Similar legislation was passed in Texas and rejected in Oklahoma. While this new legislation may seem benign on the surface, who’s against more religious freedom after all, the Texas House’s own research organization warned that it could privilege the majority once passed.
“The bill could serve as a tool to proselytize the majority religious view, Christianity, in Texas schools. The United States is a nation made up of people of many faiths. Children are required to attend school and should be permitted to do so without someone else’s religion being imposed on them … A school should be a religion-free zone – leaving religion for homes, places of worship, and individual hearts.”
As if confirming this “tyranny of the majority” suspicion, the Arizona law was backed by the conservative Christian political group Center for Arizona Policy (an organization with links to Focus on the Family), and opposed by local Jewish groups. It was CAP who used the instance of a 7th grader being told to keep her evangelizing crucified Jesus notebook at home to inflame the passions of Rep. Rich Crandall into sponsoring the bill.
“Does Crandall want to protect any religious speech, no matter how offensive it may be to members of other groups? I doubt it — if it offends Christians, that is. What he and the folks at the Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative group, want is to allow Christian expression to flourish, probably with the right kind of prayer thrown into the mix. As for members of other religions? Something tells me a notebook that says, “Christ died for nothing, the idiot!” with an offensive cartoon of Jesus wouldn’t go over so well with Crandall and his friends.”
Now we’ll just have to see if this new law will bring about a new golden age of religious freedom, or simply allow local Christians to throw their weight around with impunity. Somehow I don’t think a Wiccan student wearing a pentacle, sporting a Goddess-themed notebook, and meeting for circle chants during lunch, will get the same considerations and protections as Christian students. Any brave Arizona students and parents want to put this new law to the test? After all, this new law is supposed to be for all religions, right?