It seems silly to have to reiterate this, but legislators around the country seem to forget: students in public schools are indeed allowed to engage in student-led, voluntarily prayer and read the bible when not disruptive to class. Any legislation that seeks to “clarify” an individual’s right to do so is often unnecessary and creates more problems for religious liberty than it solves.
For example, Arkansas House Bill 1690 serves the sole purpose of encouraging prayer in public schools. Students in Arkansas already have a moment of silence at the beginning of each school day, but this bill emphasizes that students can use that silence to engage in “voluntary prayer.” The unnecessary act of clarifying that students can pray – when they already can – serves the sole purpose of endorsing religion, which is unconstitutional. On behalf of our Arkansas members, Steve Warnock, and Jim McCollum, President and Secretary of the Arkansas State Chapter, submitted testimony to the House Education Committee and to the Senate Education Committee. Unfortunately, this bill passed in both chambers and was signed into law by the Governor.
Other states are getting more creative in their efforts to mandate government-promoted prayer. The Tennessee General Assembly is currently considering a bill that they claim will reduce the amount of litigation brought in response to unconstitutional government prayer practices. Instead of reducing the unconstitutional activity, however, the bill would increase the burden on challenging such practices. HB 540/SB 965 would create unnecessary hurdles for citizens who seek and protect their constitutional rights, specifically regarding government prayer practices. It would even make it a misdemeanor for citizens to petition their government on this issue. AU’s National Office submitted testimony along with Charles Sumner, Nashville Chapter Vice-President, opposing this legislation.
For more on these prayer bills, and other issues that AU is working on, check out our State Action Center and take action on a variety of church-state issues!