The Tennessee Senate and House of Representatives have both have overwhelmingly passed a bill which will allow students in state-funded schools to discriminate against gay people on religious grounds.

The ‘Religious Viewpoints Anti-Discrimination Act’ passed through the Senate by a vote of 32-0, and the House by 90-2, and will now head to the state’s governor Bill Haslam for approval.

Proponents say it offers religious students protection from discrimination, giving them a license to express religious beliefs without reprimand, including in discussions with other students.

However, the American Civil Liberties Union warn that the bill “crosses the line from protecting religious freedom into creating systematic imposition of some students’ personal religious viewpoints on other students”, preventing schools from reprimanding religious students who express anti-gay beliefs.

They said: “This bill also encourages religious coercion, requiring each school to establish a system for selecting student speakers and allow those students to express their beliefs about religion in a variety of inappropriate settings, from the classroom to school-day assemblies and school events.”

The bill also extends protection to essays and class work, stating: “A student may express beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions.”

Opponents warn this could be used by anti-gay fundamentalists and Creationists to legitimise their viewpoints.

A broader bill which would have permitted businesses to discriminate against gay people was shelved in the state last month.