Legislation expanding religious liberties in public schools has passed the Senate and now heads to the House.
Senate Bill 1396 authored by State Sen. Mayes Middleton (R–Galveston) would allow for school districts’ board of trustees or the governing body of open-enrollment charter schools to have a record vote to decide whether to “adopt a policy requiring every campus of the district or school to provide students and employees with an opportunity to participate in a period of prayer and reading of the Bible or other religious text on each school day.”
On the Senate floor, Middleton said his legislation would not force students to participate in prayer or Bible reading and would require parents or guardians to sign a consent form to allow their student to participate.
“Senate Bill 1396 is about providing a space for free expression of religion in our public schools and open-enrollment charter schools. This bill does not make participation in prayer, or the reading of a religious text or Bible reading, compulsory in any way,” Middleton said.
The bill also states that the time allotted for Bible reading and prayer cannot be substituted for instructional class time, and an employee, parent, or guardian of a student may revoke their consent at any time.
“The reality is that our school children and our school faculty spend much of their lives in the school building and in the classroom,” Middleton said. “Our schools are not God-free zones, and this bill significantly expands those religious liberties in our public school system.”
State Sen. Angela Paxton (R–Frisco) offered an amendment for the education code to state that regardless of whether a school or open-enrollment charter school adopts the policy, it would not prohibit students or employees from participating in prayer or reading the Bible or other religious texts during the school day.
The bill passed the Senate on a party line vote of 17-12 and has not yet been referred to a committee in the House.