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.

  • John

    What is it with Christian politicians and trying to legislate rights that they already have? It’s like they’re determined to be persecuted, but they realize that they really aren’t so they just make shit up instead.

    • C Peterson

      If you need to be persecuted, but aren’t, then you can do something that warrants criticism, and them claim persecution when that criticism follows. It’s the latest strategy of the Crazy Christian contingent.

    • TrickQuestion

      I suspect that many of them don’t actually know what rights they already have.

    • SeekerLancer

      So they can pretend to their voters that they stood up for Christian rights and family values when in fact they just wasted everybody’s time better spent on actual issues.

      • baal

        Extremely common of the god lobby to waste tax payer time and money on grandstanding. In my summer at a State House, the folks in charge set aside huge blocks of time for the god lobby members to say the same speech as the next god lobby member. For many, it was the only time they spoke from the floor the entire session. The rest of the time they were nothing more than potted plants who voted according to the script handed to them (literally).

  • Stev84

    I just don’t get it. There are schools and they are for learning. And there churches for praying. Why is it necessary to mix those? Why aren’t churches enough to satisfy people’s religious needs? They can pray at home too! Why do people need to pray 24/7?

    • Octoberfurst

      Because if they don’t it makes the baby Jesus cry and when Jesus cries his dad gets all pissed off and sends tornados, floods and stuff to kill a lot of innocent people. Duh! Don’t you know fundie logic 101? Oh wait, you have a brain. Sorry.

    • Ibis3

      Because it’s not about praying. It’s about tribalism: being seen to be part of the dominant group and enforcing cohesion; pressuring and coercing others to conform; and ostracising and shaming those who don’t. You can’t do all that stuff if you only do it at home or at church (where theoretically everyone is there participating voluntarily).

      • JET

        It’s also about getting publicity, being seen as a “good” person, and rising in stature among the tribe. And in this politician’s case, getting votes.

      • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

        It’s about keeping your kids as part of a select group that is separate from the non-Christian (using their definition since lots of Christians are not considered true Scotsman by other Christians). It may lead to them being ostracized by others but they want that because those kids might be a “bad” influence on them.

      • Free

        You judge like a Christian.

        • Matt D


    • C Peterson

      In that part of the country, it’s pretty much a fiction that schools are for learning. At least, “learning” as most of the developed world interprets that word.

    • Mariève Lapierre

      Unless they’re Muslims, and are required to pray five times a day at five established time periods of the day. Where I live, some Muslims actually asked to be accommodated with a prayer room in some schools, and there was a huge backlash in the media because, well, Muslims aren’t the majority here.

      But for some reason, I doubt this bill was written with Muslims in mind.

    • Randay

      Ah, but churches are not for praying. As George Carlin said, one of the things about being an atheist is that you don’t have to go church once a week to compare clothing.

  • Leigh

    At my school, and I would think at most schools, students are not allowed to gather unless they are supervised by a licensed teacher. So if schools allow this so-called student-led practice, will they require that teachers supervise the gatherings? Will this mean that teachers who prefer not to encourage prayer will nonetheless be required to do so simply because it’s their “playground duty” day?

    • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

      You know, if I were a teacher and a group asked me to supervise so they could exercise their first amendment right to practice their religion, I would agree to that under the condition that it was positive and not negative. (I’ve heard enough negativity in prayer to know how that can go down.) It is not my place to prevent or require people to pray. I feel as strongly one way as the other. I do not want a religious minority to be discriminated against any more than I want to watch a religious minority discriminate against others.

      • SphericalBunny

        Problem is, one person’s positive can be a theist person’s negative:

        ‘I love gay people; I just want them to not have the right to get married to the person they love and to create a family with.’

        ‘I love women; I just think that a non-fully formed human should have more rights to a women’s body than she herself does. Plus, like, complementarianism.’

        • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

          Some people have a very effed up idea of love.

    • Puzzled

      Seriously? What an insane rule.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    House Bill 660

    So close! If only she could have held out for another half dozen entries.

    • digitalatheist

      When I first glanced at the article I saw 666… then re-read and saw 660 and thought.. well… she should have held out for a few more…

  • Mike in SWFL

    There are already plenty of opportunities in school to pray. One can pray on one’s own time before class, between classes, at lunch, or on afternoon break. Voluntary or not, this still violates the Separation Clause because it give the appearance of the state sanctioning one religion over another.

  • Greg G.

    Why can’t they pass a law enforcing Matthew 6:6?

    But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

    I think the problem is that the Father never holds up his end in the bargain.

    • Hat Stealer

      Silly Greg! Don’t you realize that passage is obviously a metaphor that actually means the exact opposite of what it says?

      • Space Cadet

        Gasp! Are you William Lane Craig?

  • Qp83

    This is just stupid. And no, this shouldn’t be allowed, the school is not a freaking church, and using it as one before official school hours still costs us money. Because it wears down the building as they walk through it, they probably also use electricity, water, toilets, etc… If they want to have a prayer before school, then do it the proper way and put up a note on the billboard telling everyone who wants to join to gather at a freaking church! Why is it so important that this prayer must happen in school??? It’s so stupidly obvious it has nothing to do with prayer.

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    Let me tell you how this is REALLY going to go down (and someone needs to point this out to the religious right). When I was in fourth grade (well after the Supreme Court declared mandatory school prayer unconstitutional) our teacher would lead us in a prayer before we headed to the cafeteria for lunch. I was a good little Christian boy and bowed my head and participated. But the cool kids stayed in the back and mocked the people participating, made rude noises (with the hand cupped under the underarms to make fart noises), etc. Far from feeling peer pressure to participate, the pressure was to mock this (more because it was something the school or the teacher made us do and that made it obviously uncool). It is very likely that the peer pressure will not be to participate in the recitation of the lord’s prayer but quite the opposite…that kids will be ostracized by peers for being a goody two-shoes. That’s how I remember it. It shouldn’t be happening either way, but this is NOT going to have the effect that these morons think it will.

  • WallofSleep

    “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.”

    What ever shall they do when the coin flips and the majority declines to pray? I get the impression that they really haven’t thought this through.

  • DougI

    Good to know Louisiana has no problems so they can waste time and money on bills like this.

    • fsm

      This is a good example of the problem with our political system. The only people that show up for local seats have some kind of agenda. They are not interested in fixing other problems.

      • baal

        I tend to wonder about politics on the system level. Issues like, what would happen if the churches weren’t used as poling places….

  • Heathen Mike

    This whole bill, both the original and revised versions, is another classic examples of conservative Christians either operating under the delusion that their rights are infringed, or cynically pretending such in hopes of nudging the already generous laws even further to the right. Hopefully this one, in its final form, will not do much in practical terms. But you never know; depends on government officials at all levels, on whether or not they try to bend the already-generous laws further in the direction of serving their religious paradigm. Bleh.

  • http://rolltodisbelieve.wordpress.com/ Captain Cassidy

    It’s going to be nice when Christians stop confusing “persecution” with “liberty and justice for all.” They spit in the face of those who are genuinely persecuted around the world for their faith or non-faith.