Divided Virginia Senate Narrowly Passes Student Religious Freedom Bill

Prayer V pdRICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia Senate narrowly passed a student religious freedom bill this week, sending the measure on to the House of Delegates for a full vote.

As previously reported, Senator Bill Carrico (R-Grayson County) recently introduced SB 236 as part of his longtime fight for faith in the public arena. The legislation reinforces students’ rights to be open about their faith without retribution or restriction.

Text of the bill outlines that it “[c]odifies the right of students to (i) voluntarily pray or engage in religious activities or religious expression before, during, and after the school day in the same manner and to the same extent that students may engage in nonreligious activities or expression; (ii) organize prayer groups, religious clubs, ‘see you at the pole’ gatherings, or other religious gatherings before, during, and after school to the same extent that students are permitted to organize other activities and groups; and (iii) wear clothing, accessories, or jewelry that display religious messages or religious symbols in the same manner and to the same extent that other types of clothing, accessories, and jewelry are permitted. ”

It also reiterates students’ rights to speak and write about their faith at school events and in homework assignments, provided that principals issue a disclaimer at events, noting that the views of students do not necessarily reflect those of the school.

Carrico told the Roanoke Times that the legislation additionally shields school officials from lawsuits, since it ensures a differentiation between student speech and government endorsement of religion.

“[SB 236] basically codifies what [schools] should be doing and it takes away liability from them by having them set a policy that the views of the students are not their views, and it allows the students not to be censored during their graduation speeches like some schools do,” he said.

On Tuesday, state senators were divided over the matter, arguing for half an hour about the proposal. According to Hampton Roads, arguments surrounding the bill were primarily split along party lines.

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Senator Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) expressed his opposition to the bill, stating that it would unfairly favor Christianity.

“Prayers are unlikely to be from anything but the majority religion due to sheer numerical superiority,” he said. “This bill amounts to an implicit endorsement by the state of one religion over another.”

But Senator Dick Black (R-Loudon County) disagreed.

“I don’t think there’s anything in the measure that would prevent a Hindu, or a Muslim, or a Jewish student, a Christian student, or indeed a non-religious student from exercising their rights under the bill,” he stated.

Following debate, the bill passed 20-18 in favor of the measure. It will now be sent to the House of Delegates for a vote, and if approved, will then head to the desk of newly-elected Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe.

“Now we’ll see how the governor reacts to it,” Carrico told the Roanoke Times, noting that he expects the legislation to pass the House.

McAuliffe has not yet indicated whether he supports or opposes the bill.


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  • Twitch

    Who’s excited for Satanic prayers in school?
    This guy.

  • Sir Tainly

    Religious liberty has at times gone too far in this country. The line that I recognize having been crossed oftentimes is when “religious liberty” is claimed, but what is going on in truth is that a religious organization has practices that actually trample the human rights of other religions or even non-religious people.

    This bill allows Christian kids to wear crosses and Muslim kids to wear a Hijab. It will allow them to organize prayer groups that do not interfere with school curriculum.

    I don’t see this rule as crossing the line between liberty and abuse. Will some Christian kids push the limits of this law….probably! 😀 Will perhaps well meaning teachers go to far and organize some evangelizing type activity…probably.

    Who ever said that the balance between religious liberty and religious abuse would be easy anyway?

    • Sir Tainly

      I have never seen this really expounded on here in detail, so this is from Wikipedia…as I was just reading an excellent Wikipedia entry for a publication called, “Churches That Abuse”.

      “Churches That Abuse, first published in 1991, is a best-selling counterculture apologetic book written by Ronald M. Enroth. The book presents real-life stories of pseudo-Christian churches and organizations deemed spiritually abusive and the effects these groups have had on their members. A primary theme of the book is to demonstrate, through case histories of individuals, couples, and families, that “spiritual abuse can take place in the context of doctrinally sound, Bible-preaching, fundamentalist, conservative Christianity”.[1]
      Enroth outlines the backgrounds of the leaders of these groups and explains how the groups evolved to the point of becoming spiritually abusive. A few religious authors, such as Ruth Tucker, former professor at Calvin Theological Seminary, have objected to the research methods used by Enroth.[2] However, the book has been praised by many in the anti-cult movement, including Margaret Thaler Singer, Ph.D;[1] Michael D. Langone, director of the American Family Foundation; Dr. Paul R. Martin;[3] and James Leo Garrett Jr. of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.”

  • Sir Tainly

    “In the book, Enroth lists several characteristics in identifying abusive churches.

    Control-oriented leadership[edit]
    According to the book, “…experience with authoritarian leadership is, unfortunately, not unusual for people who have been a part of spiritually abusive groups. Control-oriented leadership is at the core of all such churches. These spiritual power holders become strong role models, and their dogmatic teaching, bold confidence, and arrogant assertiveness become powerful forces of influence. They use their spiritual authority to intimidate the weak and those who consider leaving their flock.” (Page 42)

    Spiritual elitism, perceived persecution[edit]
    According to the book, “The spiritual elitism of abusive churches can be seen in some of the terminology they use to refer to themselves: ‘God’s Green Berets’, ‘God’s End-Time Army’, the ‘faithful remnant’, the special ‘move of God’. As one ex-member put it, ‘We believed we were on the cutting edge of what God was doing in the world. I looked down on people who left our movement; they didn’t have what it took. They were not faithful to their commitment. When everyone else got with God’s program, they would be involved in shepherding just like we were.’ … If abusive churches are exclusive and special, it follows that they will be targets for persecution, or so their leaders seem to feel.” (Page 61)

    Manipulation of members, fostering dependency[edit]
    According to the book, “Spiritually abusive groups routinely use guilt, fear, and intimidation as effective means for controlling their members. In my opinion, the leaders consciously foster an unhealthy form of dependency, spiritually and interpersonally, by focusing on themes of submission, loyalty, and obedience to those in authority. In all totalitarian environments, dependency is necessary for subjugation.” (Page 53)

    Life-style rigidity[edit]
    According to the book, “Traditional evangelical churches value and respect individual differences. For the most part, they encourage people to become unique persons in their own right, not mere photocopies of someone else. Authoritarian, manipulative fringe groups, on the other hand, encourage clones and promote cookie-cutter life-styles.” (Page 54)
    “… authoritarian churches demonstrate an excessive focus on such concerns. The restricted life-style and limits on personal freedom that follow are just other examples of the need to control that all abusive churches exemplify. Conformity to prescribed standards is achieved, more so than in mainline churches, through peer pressure and pastoral directives.” (Page 70)

    Emphasis on experience[edit]
    According to the book, “Quite clearly, the excesses at Community Chapel demonstrate what can happen when spiritual experience dictates theology and then necessitates a re-interpretation of Scripture. Subjective experience takes care of the theological loopholes that the Bible seems not to address. The leadership of Community Chapel promoted the view that one could accept certain doctrines and practices if they could not be disproved from Scripture, rather than accept them because of a strong conviction they were right because they were taught in God’s Word. It has been said that commitment without careful reflection is fanaticism in action, and that certainly was the case at Community Chapel.” (Page 26)

    Harsh discipline of members, information control[edit]
    According to the book, “Virtually all authoritarian groups that I have studied impose discipline, in one form or another, on members. A common theme that I encountered during interviews with ex-members of these groups was that the discipline was often carried out in public-and involved ridicule and humiliation. (Page 78)
    “Members of all abusive churches soon learn that the pastor or leader is beyond confrontation.” (Page 81)
    “Unwavering obedience to religious leadership and unquestioning loyalty to the group would be less easily achieved if analysis and feedback were available to members from the outside. It is not without reason that leaders of abusive groups react so strongly and so defensively to any media criticism of their organizations.” (Page 84)

    Painful exit processes[edit]
    According to the book, “Leaving an abusive church situation can be extremely difficult, calling into question every aspect of life members may have experienced for the period of time they were involved. (Page 89)
    “Leaving a restricted and abusive community involves what sociologists call the de-socialization process whereby the individual loses identification with the past group and moves toward re-socialization, or reintegration into the mainstream culture. There are a number of emotions and needs that emerge during this transition process. How one deals with these feelings and affective experiences has a significant impact on the overall healing that is required. Many have described the aftermath of abusive-church involvement as comparable to that of rape victims, or the delayed stress syndrome experienced by war veterans. It is recovery from what might be called spiritual rape.” (Page 90)”

  • Jimbo

    Any law can be abused and misinterpreted. If passed, invariably the implementation will be flawed and the results less than desirable.

    However, in the case of freedom of speech and expression, we should always err on the side of more freedom and more (nonviolent) expression.