INDIANAPOLIS — A bill extending religious expression rights in schools is headed to the governor’s desk, despite concerns of the legislation stepping on or merely repeating First Amendment rights.
Although House Bill 1024 has several components, in essence, it allows students to express their religious beliefs in homework, artwork, clothing and prayer without fear of discrimination from their peers, teachers or administrators.
Rep. John Bartlett, D-Indianapolis, takes notes as other lawmakers talk about his bill. Bartlett authored the legislation to protect religion in schools, as he says prayer and other expressions of faith let students understand the problems they face in life. Photo by Ashley Shuler, TheStatehouseFile.com
The bill’s author, Rep. John Bartlett, D-Indianapolis, said he authored the bill because he wanted students to have the opportunity to express their faith at school without repercussions.
“Many believe these freedoms are already available for children who attend our schools,” Bartlett said in a statement. “My intention is to place those protections into state code, and also provide guidelines that can help schools understand how to establish policies that conform with the intentions outlined in this bill.”
The bill passed the House 78-7 Thursday.
A controversial part of the original bill, which would have required schools to create a “limited public forum” for students to talk publicly about their religion, was taken out in the Senate.
That part would have mandated schools make “reasonable accommodations” for students who want to leave the room and be excused from a religious student’s prayer because of their own religious beliefs or lack of belief. Bartlett said eliminating that part of the bill pushed weary individuals and groups to support the legislation.
Rep. Karlee Macer, D-Indianapolis, said, as a Christian woman, she supports religion in schools but thinks there are already enough protections in place. Macer also said she worries the state’s already underfunded schools will be negatively affected by this legislation.
“It really sets up, unfortunately, an opportunity for our schools to have to fight lawsuits,” Macer said. “And who’s going to pay for that? It’s going to be our schools.”
Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, explains why he voted ‘no’ on the bill. Pierce said adding language like this into the Indiana Code will blur the lines between church and state. Photo by Ashley Shuler, TheStatehouseFile.com
The Indiana Constitution already outlines that Hoosiers have the right to worship and have freedom to express their religious opinions. It also says the state can’t giving support or preference to any particular religion or place of worship.
The original bill passed the House 83-12. The amended version, with the public prayer section taken out, passed in the Senate 44-5 last month.
The bill now goes to Gov. Eric Holcomb, where he has the opportunity to sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature.
Ashley Shuler is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.