PZ has a screed up about the bill, but I'm not sure he, or Texas Citizens for Science, read the full version of it as there's slight changes in the statements that are quoted. They quote a rather dangerous sounding passage:
Students may express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions. Students shall neither be penalized nor rewarded on account of religious content.In other words, this makes it sound like it's perfectly OK to just answer "Goddidit" to every question you ever face!
But in the final version, nestled right between those two sentences is a qualifying statement:
Homework and classroom assignments must be judged by ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance and against other legitimate pedagogical concerns identified by the school district.Oops! It looks like "Goddidit" isn't an acceptable answer because it doesn't meet the standards expected of... well, just about any class I could think of. Certainly not science.
Essentially what the bill seems to be saying is that students have the right to turn in their biology homework and as long as it has the correct answers on it, they can fill it with all sorts of rants about how great Jesus is and how the teacher is going to Hell for teaching evolution. The evil atheist teacher can't take off points for the student expressing their religious viewpoint. As if any teacher really does.
Similarly, students are allowed to express their religious views in class, so long as it doesn't create a "legitimate pedagogical concern", such as wasting the classes time.
The bill also makes another stipulation:
FREEDOM TO ORGANIZE RELIGIOUS GROUPS AND ACTIVITIES.This one seems like a throwaway bit of excess given that the Federal Equal Access Act passed in 1984 says almost the exact same thing.
Students may organize prayer groups, religious clubs, "see you at the pole" gatherings, or other religious gatherings before, during, and after school to the same extent that students are permitted to organize other noncurricular student activities and groups. Religious groups must be given the same access to school facilities for assembling as is given to other noncurricular groups without discrimination based on the religious content of the students' expression.
So overall, I don't see this bill as a big deal. Students have always had the right to express themselves, even if it's religiously. What this bill is doing, is making sure it's clear that students expressing themselves is different than the government funded school expressing and promoting religion.
But although this particular bill is a bit of a waste of paper and legislative time, Texas has been hard at work with other stupid bills as of late. HB 1034, passed in June, adds the phrase "one state under God" to the Texas pledge. I've already written my views on what I think of the "under God" phrase for the national pledge, and the exact same applies here: It's blatantly unconstitutional.
The main reason is that the Endorsement Tests requires that any government act not give the impression to non-adherents that they're outsiders. Even the parents at local schools realize that those that don't choose to say the pledge, or even those words, are considered outsiders. "They would have to say it ... to fit in," one parent said.
But just in case that wasn't enough stupidity, SB 83 (2003) made the pledge mandatory without a signed parental release form. This is in direct opposition to the 1943 Supreme Court case West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette which ruled it was unconstitutional to require students to recite the pledge or salute the flag.
So while Texas passes one bill that seems to be rather worthless, it seems the Texas legislature needs to review a few basic supreme court cases.