by David Safier
According to an article in Jewish News of Greater Phoenix (and reprinted in Tucson's Arizona Jewish Post), some Jewish leaders are concerned about HB2357, which is supposed to protect students' freedom of religious expression in schools.
Does this mean a student can break into prayer as an appropriate part of a class discussion? I can easily interpret those words to mean it's just fine. The teacher would have to allow it.
The article includes legislators' opinions on the bill. The two most telling are from Vic Williams and Nancy Young Wright from my own LD-26, which were included in the Tucson version and not in the Phoenix version.
Vic Williams says basically, don't worry, the bill doesn't really change anything.
He could have noted as well, as Pat Fleming (D, LD-25) did, that it also puts into statute freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. That's quite an argument for a new law. "Don't worry, the bill doesn't really do anything."
Nancy Young Wright, the Democratic Rep in the district, has a different take.
Now that makes sense. The incident Rs are using to push the law concerns a student who had a picture of Jesus on the cross on her notebook, and she was told she would have to get rid of it. She was right, and the school was wrong, it's that simple. In the end, she was allowed to continue carrying the binder, and I would hope she carried it proudly, since she won a small victory for acceptable religious expression.
I remember when I taught in Oregon, teachers weren't as clear on the laws about religious expression as they should have been, on both sides of the issue. The problem should be corrected by educating educators about the ins and outs of all kinds of student expression, not creating new laws that single out religion.
Young Wright spots another problem with the bill. If during a class discussion, a student goes on a tangent about religion and the teacher moves the discussion in another direction, "students could say their rights were violated."
There will always be a problem in schools drawing the line between acceptable and unacceptable expression on every possible topic, not just religion. Should a boy be allowed to wear a dress? (At one time there was a question of whether girls should be allowed to wear pants.) Should a mild profanity be allowed on a t shirt, or a slogan that might be advocating drugs or alcohol? Is one student's put down of another acceptable speech or intimidation? During the time I advised our yearbook, questions were raised about what could and could not be printed in school yearbooks and newspapers. Problems like these are hashed out on a regular basis, and ever more shall be.
Religion deserves no less, and no more, protection in schools than other forms of expression.