Tennessee lawmakers just passed a bill trying to force public schools to promote religion. This extreme bill (HB 2542/SB 2473) requires that schools allow students to leave class for an hour each day for religious instruction.
Our last chance to stop this bill is to get Governor Lee’s veto. If Governor Lee signs this bill into law, it will be the broadest church release time bill in the country, going into effect this fall. We must not let that happen!
Too often, these church release time laws are used by Evangelical groups to access “unchurched” students within schools and to pressure and proselytize them.
Mandating that schools participate in these programs leaves atheist and religious minority students vulnerable to bullying and harassment and takes away valuable instruction time from teachers. This religious coercion has no place in our public schools.
Sadly, this legislation will increase bullying and harassment of atheist and religious minority students — church release time programs often require students to “minister” to their peers, in other words, pressure them to attend.
Our Reality Check report shows that, among the nearly 34,000 nonreligous people surveyed, nearly one in three (29.4%) faced harassment, discrimination, and other negative experiences in school because of their beliefs. Tennessee should not further stigmatize these students by promoting proselytization in school!
Moreover, this legislation allows school districts to use their buses to transport students to off-campus religious instruction, clearly implying that this instruction is sponsored by the school. There is no doubt this is unconstitutional, and lawmakers should not be forcing this burden — and increased liability — onto local schools.
We cannot allow religious groups to undermine our education system just to allow them access to young students for proselytizing and indoctrination.
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