Education Committee hears bill protecting teacher religious expression outside of classtime

Feb. 13, 2024, 9 a.m. ·

Nebraska Capitol (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)
Nebraska Capitol (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

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A bill that would stop schools from punishing or prohibiting employees engaging in religious expression outside of class went in front of the state Legislature’s Education Committee on Monday.

State Sen. Loren Lippincott said he wants to solidify the protections in state law following a U.S. Supreme Court decision that recognized a football coach’s right to pray after a game.

Nate Grasz, policy director for Nebraska Family Alliance, was in favor of the bill saying it would help school districts avoid violating the First Amendment.

“I think it has to do with helping to provide clarity and ensure that someone who they might have a different or wrong interpretation of what is and isn't allowed, by having something in state statute helps to remove some of those problems,” Grasz said.

Opponents said it was unclear what the term “religious expression” entails. OutNebraska executive director Abbi Swatsworth said the bill could also have a negative impact on students.

“We've heard directly from too many students across the state that their school bullies are not other students, but instead teachers and administrators who refuse on religious grounds to honor their identities,” Swatsworth said.

Three people spoke in favor of the bill, and three spoke against it. Of the written comments, there were six proponents, 21 opponents and one neutral.