20 December 2007 at 10:23:34 AM
I remember when news on television was clearly divided between facts and opinions AND, when someone would do an editorial on something, the station would first say something like "This person's viewpoints don't necessarily represent those of the station or their advertisers". Well, same thing now coming to graduation ceremonies at Texas A&M. What basically the disclaimer says is that student speeches are not endorsed by the district.
A local policy governing student expression approved by the College Station school board this week requires the district to print a two-sentence disclaimer on graduation programs.
Administrators also will have to announce the statement before student speakers take the microphone:
"The students who shall be speaking at the graduation ceremony were selected based on neutral criteria to deliver messages of the students' own choices," the disclaimer reads. "The content of and any views expressed during each student speaker's message is solely and entirely the private expression of the individual student and does not reflect the endorsement, sponsorship, position, or expression of the District."
Texas school districts were required to implement a local policy this school year addressing student expression under House Bill 3678, which was passed this summer.
The law requires school districts to include the disclaimer at graduation ceremonies and "any other event in which a student speaks publicly for as long as a need exists to dispel confusion over the district's nonsponsorship of the student's speech."
Here's an example of a local policy being overridden by a state law, HB 3678. This one had to do with providing a limited forum for student expression. Here's the applicable part.
SUBCHAPTER E. STUDENT EXPRESSION OF RELIGIOUS VIEWPOINTS
Sec. 25.151. STUDENT EXPRESSION. A school district shall treat a student's voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint, if any, on an otherwise permissible subject in the same manner the district treats a student's voluntary expression of a secular or other viewpoint on an otherwise permissible subject and may not discriminate against the student based on a religious viewpoint expressed by the student on an otherwise permissible subject.
Sec. 25.152. LIMITED PUBLIC FORUM; SCHOOL DISTRICT POLICY.
(a) To ensure that the school district does not discriminate against a student's publicly stated voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint, if any, and to eliminate any actual or perceived affirmative school sponsorship or attribution to the district of a student's expression of a religious viewpoint, if any, a school district shall adopt a policy, which must include the establishment of a limited public forum for student speakers at all school events at which a student is to publicly speak. The policy regarding the limited public forum must also require the school district to:
(1) provide the forum in a manner that does not discriminate against a student's voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint, if any, on an otherwise permissible subject;
(2) provide a method, based on neutral criteria, for the selection of student speakers at school events and graduation ceremonies;
(3) ensure that a student speaker does not engage in obscene, vulgar, offensively lewd, or indecent speech; and
(4) state, in writing, orally, or both, that the student's speech does not reflect the endorsement, sponsorship, position, or expression of the district.
(b) The school district disclaimer required by Subsection (a)(4) must be provided at all graduation ceremonies. The school district must also continue to provide the disclaimer at any other event in which a student speaks publicly for as long as a need exists to dispel confusion over the district's nonsponsorship of the student's speech.
(c) Student expression on an otherwise permissible subject may not be excluded from the limited public forum because the subject is expressed from a religious viewpoint.
Here's what a few commentators have said about the bill (not necessarily the mandatory disclaimer.
Texas Freedom Network-TFN President Kathy Miller released the following statement today regarding the passage of H.B. 3678 in the Texas House.
“The author can claim whatever he wants, but the truth is that this bill threatens the religious freedom of students. Under this legislation, students will be held captive to the expression of religious beliefs that they and their families may not share. Students will be able to promote their own religious views over everybody else’s, placing schools in serious legal jeopardy. The House failed to approve amendments that would fix these flaws.”
Kathy Miller also wrote an opinion in the Dallas Morning News about seeing the lawsuits piling up.
During the last legislative session, Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston walked off the Senate floor when a Muslim imam opened the day with a prayer. A Christian, Mr. Patrick claimed his presence would have implied an endorsement of religious beliefs he does not share.
Students, on the other hand, can't leave a school function at which their presence is required. If a speaker uses a school event to evangelize, the school will not be a neutral actor. It will be forcing all students to participate in a function that promotes religious views they and their families may not share.
Consider some scenarios. When a Wiccan student council president closes morning announcements each day with a prayer to the Mother Goddess, will Christian families object? What happens when the captain of the football team decides to use his pep rally speech to mock the faith of opposing players – and, potentially, the faith of some students in his own school? Under this law, the hands of school officials are tied.
You can almost see the attorneys lining up. In fact, the attorneys who crafted HB 3678 make a living suing school districts over these kinds of issues. They even opposed a measure that would have barred students from using the law to discriminate against other students. ...
Lawmakers should have used some common sense. They could have simply provided schools with training on how the First Amendment protects religious freedom and then held them accountable. But they decided local schools needed another state mandate instead. Now local taxpayers may have to foot the legal bills.
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