FRANKFORT – The Kentucky Senate has passed a second piece of legislation during the 2016 General Assembly designed to protect the expression of religious viewpoints in schools after a district removed a biblical reference in a stage adaptation of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” this past winter.
Senate Bill 106 would permit public schools to sponsor artistic or theatrical programs that advance students’ knowledge or society’s cultural and religious heritage and traditions. SB 106 passed by a unanimous vote on Thursday before moving to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, said he introduced SB 106 because of a “firestorm” in December that Johnson County school officials created by removing a Bible passage that the character Linus was supposed to recite during a student production of the well-known Peanuts story. Smith said during one performance parents in audience stood up and loudly recited the censored lines on their own.
“I think most of us growing up in the school system would have never given a thought to the fact that we were somehow in violation of the law by doing the Peanuts play, but somehow this happened,” Smith said.
Last month, the Senate passed Senate Bill 15. It would set forth in statute what some protected activities for students are by enumerating the rights of students to express religious and political viewpoints in public schools – including state universities. That would include homework, artwork, speeches and religious messages on items of clothing.
SB 15 was assigned to the House Education Committee on Feb. 8 for further consideration.
Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, explained why he voted for both SB 106 and SB 15.
“I am opposed to any kind of censorship of art and theater,” he said, but added he had concerns about another bill addressing religious freedom.
That measure, known as Senate Bill 180, would prohibit government from compelling services or actions from anyone if doing so conflicts with their sincerely held religious beliefs. During a recent meeting of the Senate Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs & Public Protection, supporters of SB 180 said it would protect religious liberty of citizens while detractors said it would allow discrimination and would undermine fairness ordinances passed by local municipalities.
SB 180 has received two reading in the Senate but has not been acted on by the full body.