Religious expression bill testimony heard

March 04, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

ANNAPOLIS -- When two of her friends at Hancock Middle-Senior High School died in a house fire about two weeks ago, Karly Logsdon said her first instinct was to pray.

The high school senior organized a school prayer to remember their classmates.

Karly, 17, says this type of expression in school should be encouraged, and she was in Annapolis on Wednesday to support a bill sponsored by Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, that would clarify existing rules of religious activities and topics in public schools.

The bill was heard in the House of Delegates Ways and Means Committee. No action was taken.

The legislation emphasizes that students are allowed to address religion in school assignments and should not be penalized or rewarded for doing so. It also states that student addresses may include religious messages and that all religious clubs should be granted equal access to school facilities.

Under the bill, students would be allowed to organize religious gatherings, which would be given the same consideration as nonreligious gatherings. In all cases, Serafini said the bill applies to all religions, and even to those who consider themselves nonreligious.


The legislation is co-sponsored by Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, and Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, and several others.

Brian Jensen of Clear Spring, who works with the Christian ministry and outreach program Young Life, testified Wednesday in favor of the bill.

"There's an atmosphere of paranoia," Jensen said, referring to schools. "The people in charge are often surrendering to scarecrows."

Scared to appear to be supportive of any particular religion, officials have resigned schools to the "religion of secularism," Jensen said.

Larry Horchner Jr., who is with Child Evangelism Fellowship, testified in support of Serafini's bill Wednesday. His organization coordinates "good news clubs" in elementary schools in Washington County and will start a club at Western Heights Middle School in April.

Kelsey Williams, 11, is a fifth-grade student at Emma K. Doub Elementary who said she enjoyed the club she participated in as a student at Bester Elementary and would like one at Emma K. Doub.

Horchner said the organization has been denied at Emma K. Doub but has filed an appeal. He said officials have not said his group was denied because it was a religious organization.

However, he said Serafini's legislation would help clarify the rules for groups or clubs that want to use school property.

Lawmakers questioned Wednesday whether Serafini's bill was needed since its protections already are covered under current law. However, Serafini has said his bill would simply clear up confusion regarding current rules and create a uniform standard in Maryland.

The American Civil Liberties Union offered an opinion against the bill, saying it was an "aggressive attempt to insert religion into the schools under the guise of neutrality and equal access," according to written testimony. Serafini said he approached the ACLU about the bill, asking if they had any comments, but did not hear back from the organization.

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