Bill that would allow Bible lessons during school goes to the governor

Legislation providing schools with a framework to allow students to receive religious or moral education from an outside provider during the school day — something already allowed under existing law and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling — has cleared its final legal hurdle taken and is on its way to achieving this. Governor Kevin Stitt’s office.

below House Bill 1425by State Representative Clay Staires and State Senator Dave Rader, Oklahoma schools would be required to adopt a policy that excuses a student from attending a “released time course” for no more than three class periods per week or a maximum of 125 class periods per school year.

“House Bill 1425 did not invent the idea of ​​making time for religious education,” said Staires, R-Skiatook. “No. That idea has been around for a long time and was upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1952. Likewise, this bill does not make allotting time for religious instruction legal in Oklahoma. It is already legal. Oklahoma’s Parents’ Bill of Rights of 2014 gave parents the explicit right to have their children exempted from school for religious programs and purposes. This bill does not legalize anything that is illegal. And it does not create a new right for parents … It provides guidance.”

The legislation defines ‘released time course’ as ‘a period during which a student is excused from school to attend a course of religious or moral instruction provided by an independent entity outside the school premises’.

“It’s VBS all year round, so maybe we should give them some cookies and maybe some grape Kool-Aid with that.” – State Rep. Andy Fugate, D-Oklahoma City

Students may participate only if a parent or legal guardian provides written permission, and students are responsible for any missed schoolwork.

State Rep. Jon Echols, an Oklahoma City Republican who passed the bill in the House of Representatives, said that if school officials don’t allow students to take off-site courses on moral instruction, they are already in violation of current state law, and Echols said this won’t end well for those schools.

“Schools will be sued. Schools will lose,” Echols said.

He said HB 1425 provides a framework to help school boards adopt legally defensible policies regarding such courses.

“This is happening in school districts right now,” Echols said. “This is not the change – the fact that people can be excused and expected to be present.”

The bill was opposed by most Democrats and a splinter group of Republican lawmakers who sided with legislative liberals.

State Rep. Andy Fugate, D-Oklahoma City, derided the bill as a “year-round” vacation Bible school.

“This is religious education,” Fugate said. “It’s VBS all year round, so maybe we should give them some cookies and maybe some grape Kool-Aid with that.”

State Rep. Jared Deck, D-Norman, said the bill “requires boards of education to use their public resources to help administer a program explicitly designed for undefined religious and moral instruction.”

State Rep. Dick Lowe, R-Amber, countered that state law “does not authorize appropriations to be made to any other outside organization.”

State Rep. Danny Sterling, R-Tecumseh, said allowing school exemptions for religious or moral instruction would “create another problem, another obstacle to get around” for school counselors trying to graduate certain students.

But Staires noted that 26 other states have similar laws.

“By passing House Bill 1425, we can ensure that every public school district in Oklahoma has policies that respect the First Amendment, help schools avoid existing mandates, and respect the authority of local communities,” Staires said. “This bill is not a heavy burden. It’s not a difficult decision.”

Echols also said a vote on the bill should be an easy choice.

“As I listen to this debate, it comes down to one thing: Whose child is that?” said Echols. “Does the child belong to the state of Oklahoma and has it been loaned to his parents? Or does the child belong to the parents? That is the question.”

He noted that no child is required to participate in religious or moral programs under the bill, and the bill does not endorse any specific religion.

The current version of HB 1425 previously passed the Oklahoma Senate in a bipartisan manner 38-7 votes.

But it faced stronger opposition in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, where it won final passage on a 51-40 votesgaining the bare number of votes needed to pass.

The bill now goes to the governor.

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