FRANKFORT, KY — Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin signed SB-17 into law, which protects the constitutional rights of individual students to express their religious views without fear of punishment. It allows religious groups the same access to the public school as secular groups. The law protects schools that enrich their students with programs and plays that provide a deeper understanding of our cultural and religious heritage. It also protects teachers who include the Bible in historical and cultural discussions.
This law was in response to a Kentucky school that cut the Bible verse Luke 2:11 out of the movie, A Charlie Brown Christmas, because of fear it might cause the school to be sued. The verse states, "For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” The law became referred to as the “Charlie Brown law."
According to the summary of SB-17, the law will provide for the following:
- It permits students to voluntarily express religious or political viewpoints in school assignments free from discrimination
- It requires local boards of education to ensure that the selection of student speakers is made in a viewpoint-neutral manner and that the student's prepared remarks are not altered before delivery without student's consent
- Religious and political organizations are allowed equal access to public forums on the same basis as nonreligious and nonpolitical organizations, and no recognized religious or political student organization is discriminated against in the ordering of its internal affairs
- It allows students to display religious messages on items of clothing and to access public school facilities during non-instructional time as a religious student organization,
- It allows the use of school media to announce student religious meetings, and for students to meet as a religious student group during non-instructional time and before and after school to the same extent as students undertaking such actions in a non-religious manner
- It permits public schools to sponsor artistic or theatrical programs that advance students' knowledge of society's cultural and religious heritage
- It allows a teacher to teach about religion with the use of the Bible or other scripture without providing religious instruction and to teach about religious holidays in a secular manner
- It requires annual notification to local school boards, school-based decision making councils, and certified employees of statutes pertaining to religious freedom and expression in schools
- It requires the governing boards of public colleges ensure that students are permitted to voluntarily express religious or political viewpoints in assignments free from discrimination, the selection of student speakers is made in a viewpoint-neutral manner, the student's prepared remarks are not altered before delivery without the student's consent, religious and political organizations are allowed equal access to public forums on the same basis as nonreligious and nonpolitical organizations, no recognized religious or political student organization is discriminated against in the ordering of its internal affairs
- Public college campuses may not place restrictions on speech that occurs outdoors on campus and is protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, except for restrictions that are reasonable, justified without reference to speech content, narrowly tailored to serve governmental interest, and limited to provide alternative options for the communication of the information
This new law does not go beyond the rights and freedoms already protected by our Constitution. However, it has come under histrionic attacks from LGBT lobbyists such as the Human Right Organization (HRO), which falsely claims this bill targets LGBT students. This bill never mentions the sexual behavior of students. It is revealing that these activists are bemoaning a law that explains religious rights as interpreted by our courts.
"This law is the direct result of a Kentucky school censoring a religious viewpoint expressed in A Charlie Brown Christmas show. The school should have never censored the Scripture verse in a Christmas program. This new law does not create new rights but rather it clarifies in one place the religious freedom rights that already exist," said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. "We congratulate Kentucky for this victory for their freedom," Staver concluded.
Liberty Counsel is an international nonprofit, litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family since 1989, by providing pro bono assistance and representation on these and related topics.