Thursday, March 8, 2012

House Protects Student Religious Rights

OKLAHOMA CITY (March 8, 2012) – Student religious groups would be guaranteed equal access to school facilities under legislation approved by the state House.
House Bill 2677, by state Rep. Jabar Shumate, would make it illegal for any state educational institution to “take any action or enforce any policy that would deny a religious student group any benefit available to any other student group based on the religious student group’s requirement that its leaders or members adhere to its sincerely held religious beliefs or standards of conduct.”
“Student religious groups should have the same access to school facilities as other groups,” said Shumate, D-Tulsa. “This legislation ensures that children will not be discriminated against based on religious belief. If the Girl Scouts can hold meetings at a school, a Christian group should have the same access.”
Under the legislation, if a student group is discriminated against by school officials, the affected student group or any of its members would have legal justification for a lawsuit seeking damages, declaratory judgment, and/or injunctive relief in state or federal court.
“Most student religious groups accept students of all backgrounds as members, but most require their officers to live up to certain standards based on their devout beliefs,” said state Rep. Dennis Johnson, a Duncan Republican who co-authored the bill. “Those groups should not face discrimination as a result of upholding the standards they were founded to advance. I am pleased this legislation received such strong bipartisan support.”
House Bill 2677 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on a 91-0 vote. It now proceeds to the state Senate.
Remember in October 2011 an after-school Christian kids' club sued the school district of Owassa, Oklahoma, a suburb of Tulsa, for preventing the club’s organizers from promoting events at one of the district’s schools. According to the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), the conservative legal advocacy group that is representing the club, the district took away the Kids for Christ club’s right to distribute fliers, make announcements, put up posters, and other activities at Northeast Elementary School, arguing that the club, which meets outside of class time, is religious. Meanwhile, the district continues to allow such groups as the Boy Scouts and the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), along with businesses such as a local burrito restaurant, to promote their activities.

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