In his first speech on the floor of the Senate, U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) discussed education, including a call for official school prayer.
“We’ve got to start teaching our young people moral values again,” Tuberville said during remarks March 1. “That starts with putting God and prayer back in schools.”
From there, Tuberville went on to complain about education in America and made rambling comments about opportunity and the need to work hard.
Although Tuberville did not unveil any specific policy proposals related to school prayer, his comments were an indication that the issue isn’t dead in Congress. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down mandatory prayer and Bible reading in public schools in cases decided in 1962 and ’63. Christian nationalists have tried a few times since then to amend the Constitution to restore coercive prayer to public schools, without success.
AU President and CEO Rachel Laser criticized Tuberville for launching an “aggressive attack” on church-state separation.
“If Senator Tuberville is serious about improving education, he should channel his energy toward ensuring that all children have access to adequately funded, high-qualify public education,” Laser told AL.com, a statewide news service. “Rants about school prayer may play well with his base of supporters back home, but they do nothing to help our children.”
Americans United has pointed out repeatedly that prayer in public schools is not illegal. Students have the right to pray on their own on a voluntary, non-disruptive basis. They may also read religious books during their free time, and form student-run religious clubs in secondary schools.
The Supreme Court, AU has noted, struck down compulsory forms of school-sponsored prayer that violated the rights of students and their families by imposing specific modes of worship on youngsters.
For more on this issue, see the March 2020 issue of Church & State, which deals with the history of school prayer and debunks common myths about the issue. The issue can be read online at www.au.org/ church-state/march-2020-church-state.