FFRF warns that Gov. Beshear-signed bill undermines religious liberty

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is dismayed that Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear has signed into law a mischief-making bill encouraging teachers to promote their personal religious beliefs.

House Bill 547 will prohibit school districts from punishing employees for pushing personal religious views on children and co-workers. This bill is a clear attempt to invite teachers to blur lines between personal religious beliefs and professional duties, or even to proselytize a captive audience of students. The religious liberty of students depends on a secular public school system, and this new law seeks to undermine that crucial guarantee.

Under the new law, public school teachers will be emboldened to use their tax-paid positions to promote their personal religious beliefs to other staff and students. One of the bill’s sponsors even told the media that he hopes the bill will specifically “embolden Christian teachers” to share their faith while on the job.

The law encourages teachers to meet with other employees for prayer or religious study, including during employee breaks, during lunch and before school, to sponsor a student religious club, to share religious views and materials with other employees, and to decorate their desk and personal space with religious items. While teachers have the same First Amendment rights as other Americans, this law will be seen as a green light to mix religion with their work.

The new law was clearly in response to last year’s Supreme Court case, Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, in which the court distorted the facts of the case to paint a picture of of a coach being persecuted for private, personal prayers. In reality, the coach in question, Joseph Kennedy, had repeatedly insisted on praying with students, with multiple students reporting they were coerced to participate. The new Kentucky law will encourage pious teachers to follow Kennedy’s lead, inappropriately pushing religion onto public school students.

“The Supreme Court is trying to dismantle rights of conscience that have been foundational to our country since its establishment,” comments FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “It is incumbent on state legislators and governors to fight back and stand up for public school students and their rights. Sadly, by signing this bill Gov. Beshear has done the opposite.”

FFRF receives hundreds of complaints every year from public school students around the country whose teachers or coaches abuse their position to promote their personal religious beliefs — most often Christianity, as this bill’s sponsor specifically has called for. FFRF stands ready to defend students when this happens, including in court if necessary.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with almost 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including hundreds of members and a chapter in Kentucky. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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