ATLANTA — A bill introduced by Senator Michael Williams (R-Cumming) on Monday, Jan. 29 seeks to provide greater religious liberty protection for students and faculty members of public schools.
SB 361, also known as the Coach Small Religious Protection Act, comes in the wake of controversy last fall when Coach John Small of East Coweta High School took part in a prayer with his football players. When a lone complaint reached the offices of the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, the group sent a letter to the school district threatening action. The following week the East Coweta football team gathered for prayer before the game without their coaches.
In addition to faculty, the bill also looks to protect the religious liberty of students in “expression, class assignments, organization of religious groups and activities, and limited public forums.”
“Religious Liberty is the bedrock of our nation,” said Williams as reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “This is a much-needed protection for Georgia faculty members and students who incorporate their religious beliefs into their daily lives.”
Rights of groups to meet
In the bill, the rights of students and faculty to express their faith are sought to be equal to the rights of those expressing non-religious viewpoints. Student-led religious groups, it asserts, should be “given the same access to school facilities for assembling as is given to noncurricular groups without discrimination based on the religious content of the group’s expression.”
Article II advocates for students speakers at nongraduation events throughout the school year. These speakers would only be from the two upper grades and need to hold a leadership position such as student council officers, class officers, or – as another example – captains of the football team. Time limits for speakers appropriate to the occasion would also need to be included.
Other sponsors of the bill are Joshua McKoon (R-Columbus), William T. Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick), Chuck Payne (R-Dalton), Marty Harbin (R-Tyrone), and David Shafer (R-Duluth).