May 07, 2013

A bill introduced in the Louisiana House of Representatives that purports to protect public school students’ right to pray instead endangers rights and will likely spark legal challenges, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The bill, HB 724, is unnecessary because students already have the right to pray voluntarily in public schools, Americans United told House members in a letter today. AU added that the measure conflicts with court rulings governing the role of religion in public schools.

“Any public school that attempts to encourage students to pray or implements policies allowing staff to pray with youngsters is going to end up in court,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United.

Added Lynn, “Parents – not public school teachers and staff – are the proper agents to talk about religion with youngsters. It’s time Louisiana legislators accepted this.”

The legislation was introduced by Louisiana Rep. Katrina Jackson (D-Monroe), who had earlier considered introducing a bill compelling students to recite the Lord’s Prayer every day.

In a letter to legislators sent today, AU State Legislative Counsel Elise Helgesen warned that the proposed legislation is problematic because it allows school employees to pray with students, encourages members of the community to come onto school campuses to pray with youngsters and gives special treatment to religious speech.

“If Louisiana is going to adopt yet another law governing these matters, it should not pass a bill that is inaccurate and will likely invite constitutional abuses and costly litigation,” Helgesen told the lawmakers.

She added, “Although this bill alleges to do no more than provide students a space to gather and engage in voluntary prayer – a right that students already possess – this bill’s effects could be more wide-reaching.”