Alabama Legislator Moves To Make Prayer Mandatory In Public Schools

praying_hands[1]hurst_sIt appears that Alabama legislators want to trigger yet another legal challenge to the ban on prayer in public schools. A new piece of legislation introduced by Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Munford would require teachers to read a prayer every day. However, this bill has an interesting twist: it would have the teachers pick a prayer given in Congress. The point is obvious that if such prayers are permissible in one government setting, it must be permissible in this public setting. That assumption is misplaced and the timing for the bill may be as ill-conceived as its constitutional interpretation. There is a pending case dealing with legislative prayer before the Court and this controversy will only remind justices that the legislative prayer cases may collide with school prayer cases unless it draws a clear line in the constitutional sand. This however is an improvement for Hurst who has moved on to prayer from his prior interest in castration.

Hurst insists that “If Congress can open with a prayer, and the state of Alabama Legislature can, I don’t see why schools can’t.”

Here is the language of HB 318:

SYNOPSIS: This bill provides for a period of time in the public schools for studying the formal procedures of the United States Congress including the verbatim reading of a congressional opening prayer.


To prescribe a period of time in the public schools not to exceed 15 minutes for study of the formal procedures followed by the United States Congress, which study shall include a reading verbatim of one of the opening prayers given by the House or Senate Chaplain or a guest member of the clergy at the beginning of a meeting of the United States House of Representatives or Senate.

Section 1. At the commencement of the first class of each day in all grades in all public schools, the teacher in charge of the room in which such class is held shall, for a period of time not exceeding 15 minutes, instruct the class in the formal procedures followed by the United States Congress. The study shall include, but not be limited to, a reading verbatim of one of the opening prayers given by the House or Senate Chaplain or a guest member of the clergy at the beginning of a meeting of the House of Representatives or the Senate.

Section 2. This act shall become effective on the first day of the third month following its passage and approval by the Governor, or its otherwise becoming law.

The bill would raise a longstanding conflict in the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court, which has tried to allow certain prayers like at the start of Congress while drawing the line at schools. The issue is now before the Supreme Court in Town of Greece v. Galloway. Since 1999, the town has started its town council meetings with a prayer led local clergy or local residents. The case will return the Court to the area some thirty years after its ruling in Marsh v. Chambers when it held that the Nebraska legislature could begin its legislative sessions with prayers. This is an area however where the Court has avoided clear lines and left significant confusion in the wake of the decision. But the Court has never settled when legislative prayers go too far and cross the line separating church and state. Since 1999, the town of Greece, New York, which is outside Rochester, has started its town council meetings with a prayer led by members of the local clergy or local residents. In the case of the Town of Greece, all of the prayer leaders happen to have been Christians. It was challenged in 2007 by Jewish resident Susan Galloway and atheist Linda Stephens. One such example of the prayer involved in pastor proclaiming “the freedom that comes from knowing your son, Jesus.” A lower court found the prayer violated the first amendment as an endorsement of Christianity.

That in turn raises the Alabama proposal. The prayers before Congress are given by various demoninations, though teachers would be allowed to choose (which could produce an as applied problem). However, there is a problem with the audience which is viewed as a captive audience in past cases. In 1962, the Court considered a relatively mild prayer approved by the New York Board of Regents: “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence on Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our country.” It ruled that such prayers violated the establishment clause. In 1963, it ruled in Abington School District v. Schempp that school-sponsored Bible reading in public schools in the United States is unconstitutional. Both rulings had overwhelming majorities.

Notably, these decisions did not ban prayer from schools since children could still individually pray. Moreover, it does not keep religion out of legitimate educational programs. In Abington School District, Justice Tom Clark stressed “Nothing that we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistent with the First Amendment.” He added:

“The place of religion in our society is an exalted one, achieved through a long tradition of reliance on the home, the church, and the inviolable citadel of the individual heart and mind. We have come to recognize through bitter experience that it is not within the power of government to invade that citadel, whether its purpose or effect be to aid or oppose, to advance or retard. In the relationship between man and religion, the State is firmly committed to a position of neutrality.”

That presents an interesting potential test case that falls between school prayers cases and legislative prayer cases — a distinction long opposed by secularists who want the government out of religious speech and practices. Marsh allows legislative prayers to be sure but not efforts to proselytize or favor or denounce a religion. However, the Court is likely to view this as yet another effort to circumvent its school prayer cases. The odds are heavily against Alabama which would mean that it will spend considerable money on the inevitable challenge to the law — only to likely lose in the federal courts.

Source: Anniston Star

111 thoughts on “Alabama Legislator Moves To Make Prayer Mandatory In Public Schools”

  1. ANNIEOFWI, the Amendments are unconstitutional. The amendment process was to clarify not change. To keep and bear arms was understood. Arms were in every home. The 2nd clarified that understanding or misunderstanding. It did not change anything. You would be correct about the imperfection of the Constitution if the document provided for its own nullification and voidance. It did not. The Ten Commandments might have concluded with a opt-out clause. They did not. To amend, in this case, is to clarify what is misunderstood. Amend originated from words that meant take out the bad or remove the defect. To amend presumes there is something defective in the Constitution that needs to be clarified. The defect in the case of the 2nd was that the Constitution did not mention what was understood; that everyone had arms in their homes and that they could keep and bear arms. The Amendment process was to clarify not nullify. The Supreme Court should have struck down most amendments

  2. It seems the Founders established freedom which has been revoked. Prove that the Founders established a theocracy. You can’t. You argue for religion in or out of school. The Constitution provides for governance within the parameters of the Preamble. The Preamble tells us that the Founders limited government to security and infrastructure and secured the “blessings of liberty” for us (endeavors, businesses, industries, “pursuits of happiness”) which can ONLY mean a private education industry and private schools – Christian schools, atheist schools, all kinds of schools and free schools in the private sector. You buy the school you want for your own children in the free and open markets. Public school is unconstitutional and promotes arguments, such as these, to obfuscate and perpetuate the true goal of public school which is redistribution of wealth to “the poor” and to the teachers’ unions. If there weren’t striking teachers demanding ridiculous levels of compensation, “the poor” would be able to afford school (scholarships have always been available for the deserving). America needs to break the chains of the dictatorship of the proletariat and flourish in the efficiency of Mr. Market. Liberty is the legacy of the Founders. Their words are here, read them:

    We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

    Justice, Tranquility, Defense, General Welfare, Blessings of Liberty.

    There’s no individual welfare. Redistribution came only later in the Manifesto. The education industry was established in the private sector by the Founders. Modern mega-public school is an aberration; forced collectivism having nothing to do with those “blessings of liberty” secured by the Founders.

    I mean really, did they say that? Did you read that? Read it again.

  3. One more thing…

    Anyone who thinks that there is no prayer in schools has never peeked in on a class at exam time or when a surprise quiz is announced. There is prayer by those who wish to pray, and idiot legislators and internet trolls aside, there is no law against personal private prayer by students in the schools and no way to enforce it even if there were. On top of that, have these people professing their Christianity who push these sorts of laws also ignorant of the New Testament of the Holy Bible of the religion they proclaim to follow? From the Book of Mathew, Chapter six, verses 5 through 8:

    5.And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

    6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

    7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

    8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.

    Could it be any clearer than that?

  4. Some years ago there was an internet post circulating that dealt in a humorous way with the school prayer issue and how those who were demanding it ought be careful of what they ask for because they just might get it. Here is text of that post in full:

    Dear John,
    As you know, we’ve been working real hard in our town to get prayer back in the schools. Finally, the school board approved a plan of teacher-led prayer with the children participating at their own option. Children not wishing to participate were to be allowed to stand out in the hallway during the prayer time. We hoped someone would sue us so we could go all the way to the Supreme Court and get that old devil-inspired ruling reversed.
    Naturally, we were all excited by the school board’s action. As you know, our own little Billy (not so little, any more, though) is now in the second grade. Of course, Margaret and I explained to him no matter what the other kids did, he was going to stay in the classroom and participate.
    After the first day of school, I asked him, “How did the prayer time go?
    “Did many kids go out into the hallway?”
    “Excellent. How did you like your teacher’s prayer?”
    “It was different, Dad. Real different from the way you pray.”
    “Oh? Like how?”
    “She said, ‘Hail, Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners…'”
    The next day I talked with the principal. I politely explained I wasn’t prejudiced against Catholics but I would appreciate Billy being transferred to a non-Catholic teacher. The principal said it would be done right away. At supper that evening I asked Billy to say the blessings. He slipped out of his chair, sat cross-legged on the floor, closed his eyes, raised his hands palms up and began to hum. You’d better believe I was at the principal’s office at eight o’clock the next morning!
    “Look,” I said. “I don’t really know much about these Transcendental Meditationists, but I would feel a lot more comfortable if you could move Billy to a room where the teacher practices an older, more established religion.'”

    That afternoon I met Billy as soon as he walked in the door after school.
    “I don’t think you’re going to like Mrs. Nakasone’s prayer, either, Dad.”
    “Out with it.”
    “She kept calling God ‘O Great Buddha…'”
    The following morning I was waiting for the principal in the school parking lot.
    “Look, I don’t want my son praying to the Eternal Spirit of whatever or to Buddha. I want him to have a teacher that prays in Jesus’ name!”
    “What about Bertha Smith?”
    I could hardly wait to hear about Mrs. Smith’s prayer. I was standing on the front steps of the school when the final bell rang.
    “Well?” I asked Billy as we walked towards the car.
    “Okay what?”
    “Mrs. Smith asked God to bless us and ended her prayer in Jesus’ name, amen — just like you.”
    I breathed a sigh of relief. “Now we’re getting someplace.”
    “She even taught us a verse of scripture about prayer,” said Billy.
    I beamed. “Wonderful. What was the verse?”
    “Let’s see…” he mused for a moment. ” ‘And behold, they began to pray; and they did pray unto Jesus, calling him their Lord and their God.'”
    We had reached the car. “Fantastic,” I said, reaching for the door handle. Then I paused. I couldn’t place the scripture.
    “Billy, did Mrs. Smith say what book that verse was from?”
    “Third Nephi, chapter 19, verse 18.”
    “Third what?”
    “Nephi,” he said, “It’s in the Book of Mormon.”
    The school board doesn’t meet for a month. I’ve given Billy very definite instructions that at prayer time each day he’s to go out into the hallway. I plan to be at that board meeting. If they don’t do something about this situation, I’ll sue. I’ll take it all the way to the Supreme Court if I have to. I don’t need the schools or anybody else teaching my son about religion. We can take care of that ourselves at home and at church, thank you very much.
    Give my love to Sandi and the boys.
    Your friend,


    1. AY wrote: “What would be your religios screed…”

      I don’t believe anybody should adopt a religious creed. I guess that is my creed. 🙂

      We are always imperfect in knowledge. Binding oneself to a declaration of belief is foolish. What it means to one person means something else to someone else. What you think about the creed today may not be what you think about it twenty years from now when you have more knowledge. We are better off avoiding creeds and simply studying together.

  5. davidm:

    I have never discussed my views on theology, Christology or the tenets of the Catholic religion on this site. I discuss law. Religion becomes involved in the discussion when religion and law conflict, as in the Means case. Accordingly, I request that you refrain from offering your gratuitous and uninformed opinions concerning what I believe. Thank you.

  6. annie,

    WordPress can be very temperamental at times. I found one of your comments in the spam filter. Unfortunately, I’m not able to retrieve it for you.

  7. A while back I was reading up on the Quiverfull movement after watching TLC show about the Duggars. A conservative fundamentalist sect, that if I recall correctly doesn’t belong to any organized religion. Very interesting group, home schools, want to replenish the world with white children, paternalistic and authoritarian. Former adherents have said some disturbing things about their upbringing in this sect.

  8. Wait….. DavidM….. Are you saying you’re a skeptic about religion? Or that you have you have rejected religion entirely? Please explain…. This is where the confusion comes in…..

    1. AY wrote: “Are you saying you’re a skeptic about religion? Or that you have you have rejected religion entirely? Please explain…”

      I have rejected all religious institutions as phony constructs of men. I have tried to explain this before, but people here cannot understand how a theist is not religious. When they hear it, they categorize me as phony and insincere and move on.

      In religion I see people just like Mike Appleton, who believes nothing like what Catholics believe, yet he calls himself a Catholic. To be frank, I’m probably more Catholic in theology than he is. I also see people like Randy who say you have to have his particular understanding about Christ or you are not part of his Christian club. I don’t have the patience for that kind of hypocrisy. We are all pilgrims on this earth, here for a very short time, and we all learn and grow from interacting with one another. The one creed I believe in is that we ought to love one another. For the most part, religions are empires of men done in the name of God. I reject that. Instead, I believe each individual must work out his own relationship with his Creator and be true to himself and to God. If a particular person finds that religion helps him do that, fine. I’m not against that. But for me, I don’t need religion and I don’t want it. From my perspective, religion would hold me back rather than help me move forward.

  9. Facts mean nothing to such folks. They expand the idea that since they agree with Christs morals and precepts in the Bible, that therefore, they are Christians. That is against virtually every Christian theologian and religion. If you reject the divinity of Christ, the Trinity and even his resurrection, you cannot be seriously considered to be a Christian in any way. The zealots would make Ghandi a Christian since he personified the Christian way of functioning in the world better than 99% of Christians. Hell, I would say that our founders were good Marxists too if we can take things apart like this.

    1. randyjet wrote: “They expand the idea that since they agree with Christs morals and precepts in the Bible, that therefore, they are Christians. That is against virtually every Christian theologian and religion.”

      Not against EVERY Christian theologian. With one sentence, you exclude Unitarians and the various Mormon sects. You are looking at this from the perspective of someone who embraces a particular Christian religion that defines Christianity more narrowly than others who also follow Christ. You have a belief in a Christian creed for your religion. According to you, Origen, Arius, Michael Servetus, Faustus Socinus, Francis David, Joseph Priestly, Isaac Newton, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams, were not Christians because they departed from your holy religious creed.

      From the point of view of a historian who has nothing invested in any religion, it is not hard to categorize Unitarians as Christian because they follow Jesus as the Christ. They have churches and pastors and preachers just like all other Christian churches. They gather together on Sunday as their holy day just like most Christians, not on Saturday like the Jews and Seventh Day Adventist Christians, and not on Friday like the Muslims.

      Exactly which historical branch of religion do you categorize Unitarians? If Unitarians through history were not Christian, then what were they? They aren’t Jewish. They aren’t Muslim. What are they?

      Where did Jesus ever teach this religious doctrine of yours? Where did Jesus teach that only those who believed he was God or believed in some doctrine called the Trinity would follow him and be known as Christian?

      1. I see that you have a very short memory or have not read any of my previous posts, since you would know that I have no religious beliefs at all. It is all superstition and myth. I do know most of the tenants of different religions though. Even Mormons define themselves as Christian and I think most Christians regard them as that since they believe in the divinity of Christ, the Trinity, the resurrection, etc. Most. Unitarians I know do NOT regard themselves as Christian by the way. They come from that tradition, but I doubt that most Unitarians would regard themselves as Christians. Though since there is no canon of doctrine, there may be many who DO consider themselves Christian and believe in the divinity of Christ. Just because they come from the Christian tradition hardly makes them Christian, any more than Christians can be considered Jewish because they come from the Judaic tradition.

        You have to have some neutral, non-sectarian means of defining religious beliefs, and the tenants I mentioned are the ones that most people accept as defining Christians.

        1. randyjet wrote: “Even Mormons define themselves as Christian and I think most Christians regard them as that since they believe in the divinity of Christ, the Trinity, the resurrection, etc. Most. Unitarians I know do NOT regard themselves as Christian by the way.”

          Mormons do not believe in the Trinity. Many sects of Christians do not accept them as Christian because of this. They call them a cult. Many of these same Protestants do not consider Roman Catholics to be Christian because of their rituals and teaching salvation through the church or denying the soteriology of “faith alone” and also rejecting “Sola Scriptura.”

          The Unitarians merged with Universalists in 1961 and so what exists today is not really the Unitarian sect that existed in Jefferson’s day. This is why I used the phrase, “Unitarians through history.” Nevertheless, most sects in Unitarianism incorporate the word “Christian” and “Church” in their name and have a definitive theology about Christ. Wikipedia includes them in their series on Christianity. One dictionary I looked at just now says: “Christian doctrine that stresses individual freedom of belief and rejects the Trinity.” Another said: “Theology: a person, esp. a Christian, who asserts the unity of God and rejects the doctrine of the Trinity.”

          I tend to look at it from a historical perspective and from the simple perspective of a Christian religion being one based upon following Christ.

          Mike Appleton: my apologies for offending you. I’m sorry.

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