Caven Wade

(UM Legislative News Service) Lawmakers passed two bills that would expand students' religious rights in schools are headed to Gov. Greg Gianforte’s desk for his signature or veto after lawmakers passed them on party line votes last week.

Rep. Greg Kmetz, R-Miles City, is sponsoring House Bill 744, which would revise the laws about religious expression from teachers and students and allow both groups to openly pray or discuss religion in a school setting.

“This affirms first amendment rights for students in Montana schools. The first amendment of the U.S. Constitution not only gives freedom of religion it says the free exercise thereof. House Bill 744 codifies that students may exercise their beliefs in conversations on school campuses,” Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell said when presenting the bill to the Senate.

The bill passed the House of Representatives on a nearly party-line vote of 38-12 on Friday, April 7.

Kmetz also sponsored House Bill 745, which would revise the laws about religious materials in school, and allow religious books to be considered viable reading material during free reading time in class. The bill would allow all religious texts, but specifically names the Bible.

“You can’t prohibit a pupil from reading from the Bible or any other religious materials during free reading time, and if a school class or course has requirements for self selected reading a pupil must be allowed to read from the Bible or other religious materials to meet those requirements,” Regier said when presenting the bill to the Senate. 

HB 745 passed the House of Representatives on a  party-line vote of 67-31 on March 3 and then passed the Senate on a 37-13 vote on Friday, April 7.

There was no discussion on either bill during the Senate debate.