RICHMOND, Va. — The Democratic governor of Virginia vetoed a bill on Friday that aimed to reinforce the religious rights of students, stating that it infringes on other student’s desires to be free from “coercive prayer and religious messaging” at school events.
As previously reported, Senator Bill Carrico (R-Grayson County) introduced SB 236 this year as part of his longtime fight for faith in the public arena. The legislation reinforces students’ rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution 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.”
The Senate passed the bill 20-18 in January, with the House following suit 64-34 last month. It then headed to Governor Terry McAuliffe, who had vowed to veto the legislation should it come to his desk.
“He’s very concerned about the constitutionality of the bill, but he’s also concerned about the unintended consequences,” spokesman Brian Coy told the Roanoke Times.
But Carrico remarked that McAuliffe holds to a double standard in regard to American liberty by showing partiality toward homosexuals while denying freedom for Christians.
“As the Bible calls [McAuliffe] a double-minded man, if he’s going to veto a freedom of expression for students in school on religious viewpoints, yet his first executive order he signs is a freedom for sexual orientation—[for] bisexual people to express themselves, I find a little double standard there,” he said.
On Friday, McAuliffe followed through with the veto, issuing a lengthy statement explaining his reasons for opposition.
“Although proponents claim that SB 236 is needed to protect the religious freedom of Virginia’s public school students, the bill actually infringes on students’ right to be free from coercive prayer and religious messaging at both voluntary and required school events,” he wrote. “SB 236 would likely subject school divisions to extensive and costly litigation.”
McAuliffe also stated that he believes the bill is unnecessary as the “freedom of religious expression is already protected from intrusion by Virginia school divisions.”
Carrico expressed his disappointment following the announcement.
“It appears that he would rather stand with the ACLU and other far-left interest groups instead of with students of faith throughout the Commonwealth,” he said. “This veto is yet another example of a governor who campaigned as a moderate and is governing as an extremist.”
Christian groups in the state now hope that the General Assembly will seek to override McAuliffe’s veto with a two-thirds vote.
Photo: Kate Wellington