HB 1135 protects students’ right to express religious-- but not secular-- viewpoints in class and homework assignments

Richmond, VA— The ACLU of Virginia has asked Governor Tim Kaine to amend HB 1135, a bill that protects the right of students to express their personal religious beliefs in class assignments and homework. HB 1135 passed the House of Delegates and the Senate, but not until it had been amended several times.
In a letter sent to the Governor, ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis writes that the ACLU supports laws that protect the right of students to express their religious views, but believes that HB 1135 violates the First Amendment because it does not expressly allow students to express their non-religious views as well.
“As we read this law,” said Willis, “students have a right to insert their religious viewpoints into work assignments, but they don’t necessarily have to the right to express their political, philosophical or social viewpoints.”
“Protecting students’ religious expression is very important, but we need to be careful to protect other expressive activity as well,” added Willis. “If one student is allowed to express his individual beliefs on religion in an assignment on evolution or government, then another student ought to be able to add his political or social views on the same subjects.”
The relevant portion of HB 1135 reads:
Students may express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions.

The ACLU believes it should be amended to read as follows:
Students may express their religious, philosophical, political, or social beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of such beliefs their submissions.
A copy of the ACLU’s letter to the Governor is available at the following link: http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/20080314-SB-11135-Governor-let.pdf.

Contact: Kent Willis, (office) 804/644-8022

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