States Advance Bills to Better Protect Religious Liberty, Celebrate America’s Religious Heritage

May 3, 2024
New Bills for Religious Freedom | First Liberty Insider

by Jorge Gomez • 5 min read

There continues to be renewed hope for religious freedom across America. It’s in large part thanks to First Liberty’s Supreme Court victories in recent years that changed decades of bad precedent. These wins ushered in a new era for religious expression—and gave Americans more religious freedom than they’ve had in 50 years.

Propelled by this string of favorable Supreme Court decisions, state legislatures continue to take positive steps to protect religious liberty. Here’s a quick rundown of several bills that were recently passed or are being considered.

FLORIDA: Students Can Have Access to Volunteer Chaplains in Public Schools

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed a law giving public school districts the option to adopt a policy allowing chaplains to serve as counselors in their schools. The new law is set to go into effect in July.

Under the measure, school districts and charter schools could choose to craft policies allowing chaplains to provide support services and programs as long as certain requirements are met.

For example, written parental consent would be required for students to participate and the policies would have to describe the services that would be provided. School districts that participate would have to publish on their web sites lists of the volunteer chaplains and their religious affiliations.

Many opponents argue that this “violates the separation of Church and State.” Those claims are wrong. As First Liberty’s experts explain, having volunteer chaplains in public schools is constitutional. Courts have upheld many kinds of government chaplaincies in a wide variety of circumstances, including the military, prisons, hospitals and legislative bodies.

Freedom and choice are at the core of voluntary public school chaplaincy programs. If parents and school district administrators want this support service available in their schools, then they can vote to put them in place. This is all about giving students options. It’s about providing them additional resources.

In addition to the Sunshine State, lawmakers in about a dozen others are considering similar bills.

Learn More:

First Liberty: Volunteer Chaplains in Public Schools Are Constitutional—and Beneficial for Students

First Liberty: Helpful Information for School Districts Considering Chaplaincy Programs

WGCU: DeSantis signs bill allowing volunteer chaplains in school

Fox 35 Orlando: DeSantis signs bill allowing chaplains, patriotic organizations in Florida public schools

TENNESSEE: Laws Will Protect Religious Freedom for Parents & Consumers, Celebrate State’s Religious Heritage

Gov. Bill Lee recently signed several bills into law that will have a positive impact for religious freedom in the Volunteer State.

The “Tennessee Foster and Adoptive Parent Protection Act” (SB 1738) will protect religious parents who want to adopt or foster children. The law prohibits the state Department of Children’s Services (DCS) from requiring a current or prospective adoptive foster parent to affirm, accept or support any government policy regarding sexual orientation or gender identity that conflicts with the parent’s sincerely held religious or moral beliefs.

This ensures DCS does deny a parent’s eligibility to foster or adopt based on their religious or moral beliefs.

A new law (HB 2100) will help ensure no one is denied access to basic financial services because of their political or religious beliefs. This comes as cancel culture wreaks havoc on religious people in the marketplace. Banks in recent years have closed some customers’ accounts allegedly based on their religious views.

The law expressly blocks financial institutions and insurance companies from denying or canceling services to people based on their speech, opinions and affiliations, as well as a person’s religious beliefs.

Two laws will help celebrate Tennessee’s religious history and heritage. HB 2125 designates November as “Christian Heritage Month” “encouraging citizens to learn more about the state’s religious traditions. HB 1828 designates the Aitken Bible as one of the state’s official books. The Aitken Bible is the first edition of the Bible printed in the U.S. during the Revolutionary War.

Learn More:

Tennessee Conservative News: Law Protecting Religious Rights Of Foster, Adoptive Parents Signed By Governor Lee

Catholic News Agency: Tennessee names first English-language Bible translation in U.S. as official state book

Chattanooga Times Free Press: Bank customers get new protections against discrimination in Tennessee

INDIANA: Students Must Be Allowed Time for Religious Instruction

Gov. Eric Holcomb signed a law (HB 1137) strengthening existing protections for parents to have their children briefly excused from public school to receive religious instruction if they so choose.

The measure says that a school principal “shall allow the student to attend a school for religious instruction that is conducted by a church, an association of churches, or an association that is organized for religious instruction.”

It requires a principal to allow a student to attend religious instruction receipt of written notice from the student’s parent.

The Daily Citizen: Indiana Governor Signs Bill Protecting Students’ ‘Release Time’ for Religious Instruction

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