July/August 2013 Church & State | AU Bulletin

 

The Louisiana legislature has passed a bill that could lead to coercive prayer in public schools – and more lawsuits. 

HB 724, introduced by Rep. Katrina Jackson (D-Monroe), purports merely to permit voluntary student prayer gatherings. In fact, the measure not only allows students to gather in classrooms, auditoriums or other school spaces for prayer outside class hours, it also invites teachers and other school officials to participate. It even allows parents and other “persons from the community” to join in as well.

The measure states that these prayer rallies are to take place before and after the school day, but as Americans United told legislators, that provision does little to lessen constitutional concerns.

 “[T]he bill places no limits on the size or frequency of these events,” said Elise Helgesen, AU’s state legislative counsel. “As the bill is written, students could fill the public school auditorium to full capacity with their families and outsiders every morning for a large community-wide prayer service.”

Helgesen also cautioned that the bill “will likely invite constitutional abuses and costly litigation.”

On June 1, the state Senate unanimously passed the bill; the House did so previously. At press time Gov. Bobby Jindal had yet to sign the measure but was expected to do so.