House committees pass one bill; hear testimony but delay vote on the other until Friday.The ACLU of Virginia today asked Virginia legislators to reject bills seeking to post religious messages in public schools. HB 108, sponsored by Delegate Robert Marshall, requires all public schools to post "In God We Trust" in a prominent place. HB 161, sponsored by Delegate Scott Lingamfelter, directs the State Board of Education to issue guidelines for the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools. Marshall 's bill passed the House Education Committee this morning overwhelmingly. After hearing testimony, the House Courts of Justice Committee delayed the vote on Lingamfelter's bill until Friday.
"The Supreme Court has made it absolutely clear that public schools cannot promote religion," said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis. "Every student has a constitutional right to carry a copy of the Ten Commandments to school or to wear to school a T-shirt with "In God We Trust" printed on it. But the school itself must be neutral towards religion."
"The American experiment with religious freedom has worked beyond even the imagination of our most prescient founders," added Willis. "That experiment tied two principles together: the right of each individual to practice the religion of his or her choice and the mandate that government neither promote nor inhibit religion. After 200 years, we are among the most devout people in the world, and we live in the most religiously free and diverse nation in history."
"These bills, in conjunction with other bills mandating the posting of "In God We Trust" in court houses and government buildings, undermine the concept of religious freedom," said Willis, "The last the thing our legislators should be doing is dictating religious expression in public places. We are a religious people precisely because our government, at least until now, has kept its distance from matters of faith."
The ACLU of Virginia sent memos to members of the House Courts of Justice Committee and the House Education Committee. Robert S. Alley, professor of humanities emeritus at the University of Richmond and a nationally recognized expert on religion in public schools, represented the ACLU of Virginia and other groups in testimony given before the two committees today.
Copies of the memos sent by Kent Willis and ACLU of Virginia associate director Laura LaFay to committee members are found at http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/20020121-Religion-Bills.pdf.
Contacts: Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022 Laura LaFay, Associate Director, ACLU of Virginia Dr. Robert S. Alley, Professor of Humanities Emeritus (804) 288-8807