ACLU warns of “religious coercion” in Tennessee bill; Buddhist man in Texas alleges he was fired for refusing to disseminate Bible verses

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, about to sign controversial "Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act"

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, about to sign controversial “Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act”

Not even two weeks have passed since the ACLU obtained a favorable settlement in a Louisiana suit filed on behalf of the parents of a Buddhist sixth-grader harassed by Christian teachers and school administrators for his religious beliefs (see our coverage of the settlement here). Now the civil liberties watchdog is objecting to a Tennessee bill that would allow students in that state to be subjected to unwanted proselytizing in school settings, among other controversial measures.

The “Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act”, which the Tennessee legislature has already put on its governor’s desk to sign, “encourages religious coercion,” warns the ACLU statement, “requiring local school boards to establish a system for selecting student speakers and allow those students to express their beliefs about religion in a variety of inappropriate settings, from the classroom to school-day assemblies and school events.”

“Should this pass, students with a range of religious beliefs, as well as non-believers, would likely routinely be required to listen to religious messages or participate in religious exercises that conflict with their own beliefs. Conversely, if a student of a minority religious faith (e.g., a Buddhist, a Wiccan, etc.) or a non-believer were to obtain a ‘position of honor,’ as defined under this bill, that student would be permitted to subject all classmates to prayer and proselytizing specific to his or her faith tradition in connection with school events. In both cases, parents would have no recourse to ensure that their children were not coerced into such religious exercise.”

Other groups such as the New Civil Rights Movement also identify a special danger for LGBT students: “Attacks on LGBT people and same-sex marriage are automatically protected under this bill, offering anti-gay students a state-sponsored license to bully.” The NCRM opposition to this bill notes that a nearly identical bill is making its way through the Oklahoma legislature, and that Texas has already enacted one.

In related news, a Buddhist man in Texas, Jef Mindrup, has brought a federal suit against his employer of eight years, Goodman Networks, claiming he was fired on the basis of religious discrimination. In his capacity as director of marketing communications, Mindrup refused to comply with an order that he immediately begin to include Bible verses in the company’s daily emailed newsletter; he was let go the next day. Read The Raw Story’s report here.

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