A colleague phoned Representative Jones' office on Tuesday to advise him that I would like to speak in opposition to the bill as it came before the Education Committee on Wednesday. She was informed that no input from citizens would be permitted.
I decided it was unusual for citizens to be barred from giving input at Capitol hearings. Under previous leadership at the state capitol, citizen input was welcome but often limited to one or two minutes. So, I went to the state capitol and attended the committee meeting. Citizens were permitted to give input on the other legislation that came before the committee, but I was not permitted to speak against HB 2211.
Had I been permitted to speak, expecting to be limited to a one minute presentation, this is what I would have said:
Mainstream Baptists oppose H.B. 2211 because it is too weak to adequately protect religious liberty and freedom of speech for all people.When legislators exercise "viewpoint discrimination" to pass their legislation, it's hard to see how it will be good for our public schools. Jones has set precedent for how to protect the approved viewpoint and stifle opposing perspectives.
Prayer is an act of worship. To suggest otherwise is to trivialize faith and belittle religion. Religious devotions and expressions are also acts of worship.
This nation was founded by people who refused to become a captive audience -- forced to listen to the prayers and preaching being led by the Church of England. That is why the Pilgrims came to America. That is why my Baptist forefathers came to America.
As written, this bill puts students in the same position as the early Pilgrims, Baptists, and Quakers. You will make them a captive audience -- forced listen to the prayers, preaching and devotions of people with whom their own conscience and convictions may forbid them to worship.
To correct this injustice, your legislation needs a conscience clause. It needs to be amended to permit anyone -- regardless of their position and status within the school -- to leave the room when prayers, preaching and devotions are being conducted. You also need to make it a crime for anyone to belittle, berate, bully or penalize any person who exercises their own first amendment right to worship according to the dictates of their own conscience by leaving the room during these acts.