By Cindy Brovsky
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Sen. Dave Schultheis wants to make public school students, parents and employees aware they can express their religious beliefs without fear of retribution through a state religion “bill of rights.”
But opponents of his bill say the First Amendment already protects religious rights and school districts could be sued if viewed as sanctioning one religion over other faiths.
The El Paso Republican first introduced the religious bill of rights in 2007. He acknowledges religious freedoms — such as wearing religious clothing or using religious greetings — already are covered by state and federal laws. However, Schultheis said his bill would require a written policy of those rights to be distributed to students, parents and employees and protect them similarly to medical patients ‘privacy rights.
“This issue is as important today, if not more so,” he said. “I have been made aware of people who feel their religious freedoms are being trampled or disregarded in increasing numbers.”
The Colorado Association of School Boards said school districts already have policies in place to protect religious expressions.
“There are lots of policies that already are shared with parents and students on a regular basis,” said Jane Urschel, deputy director of the association.
Schultheis’ bill says the hostile environment towards religious expression in public schools has caused some parents to remove their children from public schools, thereby reducing funding to the districts.
“In fact, we found the opposite to be true,” Urschel said. “In these economic times, some private schools are closing and the students are returning to public schools.”
A portion of the bill allows religious songs to be sung at public events, which could be perceived as public school districts sanctioning one religion over another, Urschel said. For example, some students have wanted to sing religious songs at graduation ceremonies.
The bill was scheduled to be heard by the Judiciary Committee earlier this month but delayed because of budget discussions. A hearing is set for Monday, Feb. 15.