Louisiana State Representative Katrina R. Jackson has a curious take on the religion clauses. Despite contrary Supreme Court precedent under the First Amendment, Jackson is pushing legislation to require students to learn the Lord’s prayer every morning in public schools. Jackson insists that requiring the Lord’s prayer (though students cannot be punished for failing to recite it) is simply a way to get them to appreciate . . . you guessed it . . . religious freedom.
House Bill 660 (known as the “Parental Choice Historical Prayer and Pledge Act”) would “require the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to establish a policy and develop procedures relative to school prayer and the pledge of allegiance.” It further states:
Students shall be reminded that the Lord’s Prayer is the prayer that the pilgrim fathers recited when they came to America in search for freedom.
Students shall be informed that these exercises are not meant to influence an individual’s personal religious beliefs in any manner.
The recitations shall be conducted so that students learn of America’s great freedoms,including the freedom of religion symbolized by the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.
Having the government require the recitation of a prayer to God is certainly a lesson on religious freedom but one that is taught by the denial of that freedom. Jackson wants public employees to lead children in saying to God “Hallowed be thy Name; Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done in earth; As it is in heaven.” They will also state together that “For thine is the kingdom, The power, and the glory, For ever and ever.”
The effort to require students to recite the Lord’s Prayer (or sit and listen to its daily recitation) is an obvious effort to endorse its religious message. It is not a lesson on freedom of religion. It is a lesson on state-endorsed religion. Once again, if passed, the law would trigger litigation and the expenditure of time and money before it is struck down — in a state that has limited educational funds. Louisiana currently ranks with the worst ranked school systems in the nation with over half of its schools deemed as failing. While that is certainly a good reason for students to pray that they will have any future with a subpar education, it would be better to actually offer education to help them find a job and a future.
On her bio in the state legislature, she is described
Attorney Jackson attended Lincoln Elementary, Carroll Jr. High school, Carroll High School. She also attended the University of Louisiana at Monroe, where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Pre-Law and Legal Studies. . . . In efforts to quench her thirst and longing to help others, Ms. Jackson attended Southern University Law Center and received a Juris Doctor degree in 2004. Ms. Jackson ended her law school career by graduating in the top fourteen percent of her class (18 out of 128). In April 2005, Ms. Jackson was admitted to the Louisiana State Bar Association.
Clearly, the constitutional law classes did not seem to stick on the issue of separation of church and state.
She further states on her bio:
Ms. Jackson attributes her accomplishments to not just having a dream, but having a dream that lines up with God’s plan for her life. She believes her footsteps are ordered by God and everyday Ms. Jackson works to allow God to guide her in the process of realizing her dream. Her family worships at Riverside Missionary Baptist Church in Monroe, LA.
I understand the importance of faith to Ms. Jackson and her insistence that her work as a politician is part of God’s design. However, once again, the insistence on requiring others to recite and/or listen to professions of that faith is the step beyond personal faith to state endorsement. There are many people who are as faithful and devout as Jackson but do not run for office on that claim of faith or try to impose it on others. Indeed, there are many who view the use of faith by politicians to be offensive as they do mandatory recitation of religious prayers in schools. As Justice William Brennan states in his concurrence in Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963):
There are persons in every community—often deeply devout—to whom any version of the Judaeo-Christian Bible is offensive. There are others whose reverence for the Holy Scriptures demands private study or reflection and to whom public reading or recitation is sacrilegious…. To such persons it is not the fact of using the Bible in the public schools, nor the content of any particular version, that is offensive, but the manner in which it is used.