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Religious expression bill stalled in committee

March 26, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

ANNAPOLIS -- Legislation that would clarify students' right of religious expression while in school is languishing in committee, and the bill's sponsor, Del. Andrew A. Serafini, said it likely will not get a vote.

Serafini, R-Washington, said there might have been some apprehension over parts of the bill or a concern it was giving students additional rights to religious expression. In fact, he said the bill was meant only to clarify students' existing rights, create consistency among Maryland counties and provide protection for local school boards that might face costly lawsuits if students' religious freedoms were not upheld.

Serafini's bill seeks to clarify the rules of religious expression in public schools by emphasizing students are allowed to address religion in school assignments and should not be penalized or rewarded for doing so. It also states student addresses can include religious messages and all religious clubs should be granted equal access to school facilities.

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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.

Serafini said the bill is not about pushing his faith on others.

"Yes, I am a Christian. I am not afraid to say that," he said. "But this does not establish any one religion."

Serafini's bill would give the same protections to students of all religions, or no religion at all. He said the committee that had been considering the bill perceived it was unnecessary, despite testimony from Washington County residents saying it was needed.

Serafini said he likely will introduce the bill again in the next legislative session, but said he is not sure if he will alter it before then.

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