Louisiana Politician’s Bill to Force Students to Recite Lord’s Prayer Gets Gutted and May Now Become Law

About two months ago, Katrina R. Jackson, a Democrat from Louisiana, tried to pass awful legislation that would have all the state’s elementary and high schools reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

House Bill 660 said those recitations would be “voluntary” in the sense that you wouldn’t be punished by the administration for not joining in… but ignored the fact that most students would be pressured by their peers to join in with the majority.

Jackson went on to say that “these exercises [were] not meant to influence an individual’s personal religious beliefs in any manner” and saying the Lord’s Prayer would help students learn about “America’s great freedoms, including the freedom of religion…”

It made no sense and was rightfully hammered in the media.

So here’s what Jackson did. She changed House Bill 660 to House Bill 724 and basically gutted her own bill to remove the most odious parts of it.

No more Lord’s Prayer.

No more references to how saying the prayer wouldn’t influence one’s personal religious beliefs.

No more mention of how saying the Prayer honors “the freedom of religion.”

Instead, the bill just reinforces things that are basically already legal:

Upon the request of any public school student or students, the proper school authorities may permit students to gather for prayer in a classroom, auditorium, or other space that is not in use, at anytime before the school day begins when the school is open and students are allowed on campus, at any time after the school day ends provided that at least one student club or organization is meeting at that time, or at any noninstructional time during the school day. A school employee may be assigned to supervise the gathering if such supervision is also requested by the student or students and the school employee volunteers to supervise the gathering.

Any school employee may attend and participate in the gathering if it occurs before the employee’s workday begins or after the employee’s workday ends.

Any parent may attend the gathering if the parent adheres to school procedures for approval of visitors on the school campus.

The students may invite persons from the community to attend and participate in the gathering if other school organizations and clubs are allowed to make similar invitations. Such persons shall adhere to school procedures for approval of visitors on the school campus.

In summary: Kids can pray at school when classes aren’t in session. (Like at the flagpole in the morning.)

Teachers can join them… when school isn’t official in session.

Parents and pastors can join them… as long as they follow school rules about visitors.

These are all things that are already legal, provided the teachers, parents, and pastors really do follow the rules and don’t proselytize or overstep their boundaries. It’s also a completely different bill from Jackson’s original.

Americans United warns, though, that the language here could still be a problem:

… 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.”

Again, if all the laws are followed properly, there shouldn’t be a problem, but we’ve seen many, many instances of Christians bending or breaking the rules because they think they can get away with it.

This bill passed in the House a couple of weeks ago without a single “Nay” vote and the Senate will be voting on its final passage later today.

Lamar White, who first wrote about this bill and shares some of AU’s concerns, still has very good things to say about how Jackson handled the criticism of her original version:

I want to express my gratitude to Representative Jackson. She and I may not see eye-to-eye on these issues, but almost immediately after I published my first story, Representative Jackson began engaging me (and others) on Twitter and social media. She listened to our concerns, and she responded. Most politicians, when challenged, tend to double-down; Ms. Jackson, however, was receptive, collaborative, and respectful to her critics. I may not like this new legislation, but I like it a lot more than the previous bill. And I sincerely thank her for hearing us out.

(Thanks to Randall for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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