Archive for Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Donohoe introduces religion bill for schools

March 12, 2008

Kansas House Representative Owen Donohoe, R-Shawnee, has introduced a bill likely to set off plenty of debate if it ever sees the light of a committee hearing. The so-called Religious Liberty Bill of Rights, HB 2779, Donohoe said in a press release, "aims to provide educators and students the opportunity to exercise their first amendment rights in public schools."

Included in the bill is language that says a teacher has a right to "not be required to teach a topic that violates the teacher's religious beliefs and not be disciplined for refusing to teach the topic."

The bill, if enacted into law, would mean faculty could avoid teaching any fact or subject that they claimed conflicted with their religious beliefs.

The bill would also declare that students have an inalienable right to "participate in a private religious ceremony held on a public school campus outside of instructional time."

Donohoe said the impetus for the bill was "nothing specific," but the press release states "teachers and students have expressed concern about their inability to discuss a religious topic in a public school, even for historical or literary purposes."

Donohoe said it was "absolutely" fine if the bill's passage resulted in students being able to hold satanic ceremonies on school property.

He said the bill would not allow teachers to say the earth is flat - by claiming that teaching the planet is round would violate their religious beliefs - but couldn't explain just how the bill would prevent such a situation.

In fact, if Donohoe's bill were to be enacted in its current form a math teacher would be able to claim, for example, that teaching the universally recognized value of pi - the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter - offended her religious beliefs, and not teach students the concept. That's because a passage in I Kings in the Old Testament implies that the value of pi is 3, instead of the correct, approximate value of 3.14.

Mill Valley High School Principal Joe Novak, who is running for election against Donohoe for 39th district, said in his view as an educator the bill was not needed.

"In my 32 years in education I've never had a problem with teachers expressing themselves when it comes to teaching about religion," Novak said.

"There is a natural separation of church and state, as there should be," Novak said. "That has been the practice of schools and it has worked very well."

Contrary to Donohoe's argument, Novak said, "teachers are not held hostage to their beliefs. Obviously, if they can't adhere to the separation of church and state then we have an administrative or curriculum issue that needs to be discussed."

Across the river in the 39th district, Bonner Springs-Edwardsville Superintendent Robert Van Maren also didn't think much of Donohoe's bill.

"I see it as a violation of separation of church and state and do not want any of our teachers or our schools to take on any additional tasks, as we already are responsible for far more than we should be, have time for, or for which we receive funding," Van Maren wrote in an e-mail.

"This is a huge can of worms that will be disruptive to our schools and communities and open us and our children up to various government controls and litigation. The parents and churches can facilitate all of these faith-based and family-oriented activities as they see fit for their children. After all, it is a free country."

The bill is not yet scheduled for a committee hearing.

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