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. AY wrote: ” It’s not all black and white as Jefferson is keenly aware of…”

      Jefferson pretty much considered theism vs atheism to be black and white. He squarely sided with theism. The clergy and miracles are what he doubted. If he was a skeptical as me, he would have rejected religion entirely, but he left that door open.

  1. Mr. Bryan:

    Christianity covers a broad range of disparate and contradictory doctrines. The sole shared tenet of those who profess to be Christians is belief in the divinity of Jesus. Jefferson did not believe in the divinity of Jesus. Therefore, your statement is false.

    1. Mike Appleton wrote: “The sole shared tenet of those who profess to be Christians is belief in the divinity of Jesus. Jefferson did not believe in the divinity of Jesus. Therefore, your statement is false.”

      Who exactly decides that the “divinity of Jesus” is the “sole shared tenet” of Christianity? With your doctrinal pronouncement, you have excluded virtually all the Unitarian Christian churches from all of history. From before the time of Arius of the third and fourth century, there have been Christians throughout history who have believed in Jesus as the sinless Messiah and Redeemer, but not as God.

      Jefferson identified himself as a true Christian. He assembled with other Christians on Sunday for Christian worship and gave his money to Christian establishments and causes. He considered Jesus to be the greatest moral reformer of all time. How can you call Thomas Jefferson a liar or a phony just because his Christology does not agree with yours?

      I would think that a person who confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and who joins himself with an establishment of the Christian religion like the Unitarian church, who every Sunday assembles with other people to worship Christ and study about him (as Thomas Jefferson did), would be a Christian. The Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant sects of Christianity want to deny such people the label of Christian on the basis that they do not believe that Jesus had an eternal pre-existence with Father God, but who made them the arbiters of such things? As a Catholic you will probably say Peter, but yet in the dialogue that Jesus had with Peter where he declared the rock upon which he would build his church, there was not the confession that Jesus was God, but rather the confession that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. On what basis do you add that the confession must also include that Jesus is God? You have no authority to declare that faith in Jesus as the Son of God and associating together with others of like mind is insufficient to make such churches Christian establishments.

  2. Elaine:

    “And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.”

    This excerpt your website utilizes is from a letter written on April 11, 1823 from Jefferson to Adams.

    A fuller quote from the letter is here:

    “The truth is that the greatest enemies to the doctrines of Jesus are those calling themselves the expositors of them, who have perverted them for the structure of a system of fancy absolutely incomprehensible, and without any foundation in his genuine words. And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. But we may hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with all this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this the most venerated reformer of human errors.”

    In that very same letter Jefferson speaks to atheism:

    “We see, too, evident proofs of the necessity of a superintending power to maintain the Universe in it’s course and order. Stars, well known, have disappeared, new ones have come into view, comets, in their incalculable courses, may run foul of suns and planets and require renovation under other laws; certain races of animals are become extinct; and, were there no restoring power, all existences might extinguish successively, one by one, until all should be reduced to a shapeless chaos. So irresistible are these evidences of an intelligent and powerful Agent that, of the infinite numbers of men who have existed thro’ all time, they have believed, in the proportion of a million at least to Unit, in the hypothesis of an eternal pre-existence of a creator, rather than in that of a self-existent Universe”

    An early proponent of intelligent design.

    He ends this very same letter with these words to Adams:

    “To the God of Jesus, and our God, I join you cordially, and await his time and will with more readiness than reluctance. May we meet there again, in Congress, with our antient Colleagues, and recieve with them the seal of approbation `Well done, good and faithful servants.’–a quote from Jesus about the life to come

    Much is often taken from websites (both liberal and conservative) that is not true to the source. As hard as it is we need to check the sources to prevent being deceived.

    If you read Jefferson it is clear he was no atheist, no deist, but a self proclaimed Christian though certainly a liberal one.

    1. Eleazer Bryan wrote: “Much is often taken from websites (both liberal and conservative) that is not true to the source. As hard as it is we need to check the sources to prevent being deceived.”

      Thank you! How right you are. Finally, a voice of reason from somebody with a heart for truth.

      Eleazer Bryan wrote: “If you read Jefferson it is clear he was no atheist, no deist, but a self proclaimed Christian though certainly a liberal one.”

      I totally agree with you.

  3. If it is only about “tradition” – at one time slavery was legal, women were not allowed to vote, alcohol was illegal and inter-racial marriage was illegal in many states.

    If it is about constitutionality, it can be challenged in the courts at any time by someone with legal standing as a Plaintiff.

  4. I’ve got something for those cynical Republican reactionaries — in Alabama or wherever — who won’t leave innocent kids alone to get a decent secular education. How about reading this out loud at the start of every legislative session?

    Left Behind by Jesus

    Jesus loves the rich, you know
    Ask them, they will tell you so

    Help the poor? Why that’s a crime!
    Best to work them overtime

    Off the books, though, lest they say
    That you owe them extra pay

    Jesus loves those tax cuts, too
    Just for some, though, not for you

    See a poor kid that’s a clerk?
    Send him to Iraq to work

    Jesus loves the army, see?
    Just the place for you and me

    Not the rich, though, they don’t serve
    What a thought! What perfect nerve!

    If you think this life’s a pain
    Wait till Jesus comes again

    Then on Armageddon Day
    He will take the rich away

    Sure, you thought that you’d go, too,
    Not that you’d get one last screw

    Just like your retirement
    That the rich already spent

    Jesus with the winners goes
    Losers, though, just get the hose

    What on earth would make you think
    That your lord’s shit doesn’t stink?

    After all he left you here
    With the rich, so never fear

    They’ll upon your poor life piss
    In the next life and in this

    Jesus loves the rich, so there!
    Don’t complain it isn’t fair

    Jesus said to help themselves
    Then he’d help them stock their shelves

    So they did and he did, too
    What has this to do with you?

    Jesus loves the rich just fine
    Why’d you think he pours their wine?

    Jesus votes Republican
    Ask them: they’ll say “He’s the One!”

    Still a few loose coins around
    That the rich have not yet found

    Gotta go now, never mind
    If you end up left behind

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2006

    There you go, kids. Now you know what the Republicans have in store for you if you let them bamboozle you with that invisible spook daddy-son-and-ghost stuff, namely: you get the invisible while they get the stuff.

  5. And what gives with this religious “lord” business, anyway? I always thought that our free-thinking colonial ancestors fought a bloody revolutionary war against the very idea of distant aristocratic rulers, whether British or magical. It seems like a crass and cynical betrayal of their many sacrifices to insist on inculcating in vulnerable children the idea of voluntary enslavement to imaginary, dictatorial “lords” who somehow “command” things of the living who can and ought to know better.

  6. “For surely it is folly to preach to children who will be riding rockets to the moon a morality and cosmology based on concepts of the Good Society and of man’s place in nature that were coined before the harnessing of the horse! And the world is now far too small, and men’s stake in sanity too great, for any more of those old games of Chosen Folk (whether of Jehovah, Allah, Wotan, Manu, or the Devil) by which tribesmen were sustained against their enemies in the days when the serpent still could talk.” — Joseph Campbell, Primitive Mythology: the Masks of God

    Fortunately, the serpent no longer speaks. Now, if only we could say the same of those reactionary politicians who would continue poisoning the minds of impressionable children instead of encouraging them to freely examine the real world with their minds unclouded by primitive animist dogma.

  7. Elaine:

    “How do you feel about “neo-con” philosophy? Is that a scourge too?”

    Yes, definitely and maybe more so than progressive philosophy.

  8. When I was back there in seminary school, there was a person there who put forth the proposition that you can petition the Lord with prayer. Petition the lord with prayer …

  9. Who was John Leland?

    The Writings of the Later Elder John Leland, published in 1845.

    “The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. … Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.” John Leland, “A Chronicle of His Time in Virginia,” (1790)

    “These establishments metamorphose the church into a creature, and religion into a principle of state, which has a natural tendency to make men conclude that Bible religion is nothing but a trick of state.” John Leland, “Right of Conscience Inalienable, and Therefore, Religious Opinions Not Cognizable By The Law,” (1791)

    “Is conformity of sentiments in matters of religion essential to the happiness of civil government? Not at all. Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics. Let every man speak freely without fear–maintain the principles that he believes–worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing, i.e., see that he meets with no personal abuse or loss of property for his religious opinions. Instead of discouraging him with proscriptions, fines, confiscation or death, let him be encouraged, as a free man, to bring forth his arguments and maintain his points with all boldness; then if his doctrine is false it will be confuted, and if it is true (though ever so novel) let others credit it. When every man has this liberty what can he wish for more? A liberal man asks for nothing more of government.” John Leland, “Right of Conscience Inalienable, and Therefore, Religious Opinions Not Cognizable By The Law,” (1791)

    “Experience…has informed us that the fondness of magistrates to foster Christianity has done it more harm than all the persecutions ever did.” (1804)

  10. “And I have no more patience or tolerance for those who would seek to damage this democracy any further than has already been done by the scourge of religion progressive philosophy.”

    There, that is much better.

  11. davidm,

    Where did you get the idea that I believe everything that is published on the Internet? And why, pray tell, should I believe everything you write on this blog?

  12. From the “5 Founding Fathers” article quoted by Elaine, this about Thomas Paine:

    “He was also a radical Deist whose later work, The Age of Reason, still infuriates fundamentalists. In the tome, Paine attacked institutionalized religion and all of the major tenets of Christianity. He rejected prophecies and miracles and called on readers to embrace reason. The Bible, Paine asserted, can in no way be infallible. He called the god of the Old Testament “wicked” and the entire Bible ‘the pretended word of God.'”

    Paine was a Dieist in the sense that “God” was the first cause which could only be discovered by reason. Given today’s Standard Model of Cosmology, Paine might not even be a Dieist.

    Related — breaking news on the SMC:

  13. “As thinking people we rethink, revamp, redo to make our existence in a modern world better and to keep us from killing each other because of being mired down in the past, which wasn’t always the good old days for everyone.”

    Annie, that’s how Humanists roll.

  14. 5 Founding Fathers Whose Skepticism About Christianity Would Make Them Unelectable Today
    Thomas Jefferson believed that a coolly rational form of religion would take root in America. Was he ever wrong.
    By Rob Boston

    To hear the Religious Right tell it, men like George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were 18th-century versions of Jerry Falwell in powdered wigs and stockings. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    Unlike many of today’s candidates, the founders didn’t find it necessary to constantly wear religion on their sleeves. They considered faith a private affair. Contrast them to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (who says he wouldn’t vote for an atheist for president because non-believers lack the proper moral grounding to guide the American ship of state), Texas Gov. Rick Perry (who hosted a prayer rally and issued an infamous ad accusing President Barack Obama of waging a “war on religion”) and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum (whose uber-Catholicism leads him to oppose not just abortion but birth control).

    There was a time when Americans voted for candidates who were skeptical of core concepts of Christianity like the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus and the virgin birth. The question is, could any of them get elected today? The sad answer is probably not.

    1. George Washington. The father of our country was nominally an Anglican but seemed more at home with Deism. The language of the Deists sounds odd to today’s ears because it’s a theological system of thought that has fallen out of favor. Desists believed in God but didn’t necessarily see him as active in human affairs. The god of the Deists was a god of first cause. He set things in motion and then stepped back.

    Washington often employed Deistic terms. His god was a “supreme architect” of the universe. Washington saw religion as necessary for good moral behavior but didn’t necessarily accept all Christian dogma. He seemed to have a special gripe against communion and would usually leave services before it was offered.

    Washington was widely tolerant of other beliefs. He is the author of one of the great classics of religious liberty – the letter to Touro Synagogue (1790). In this letter, Washington assured America’s Jews that they would enjoy complete religious liberty in America; not mere toleration in an officially “Christian” nation. He outlines a vision of a multi-faith society where all are free.

    “The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for giving to Mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation,” wrote Washington. “All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.”

    Stories of Washington’s deep religiosity, such as tales of him praying in the snow at Valley Forge, can be ignored. They are pious legends invented after his death.

    2. John Adams. The man who followed Washington in office was a Unitarian, although he was raised a Congregationalist and never officially left that church. Adams rejected belief in the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus, core concepts of Christian dogma. In his personal writings, Adams makes it clear that he considered some Christian dogma to be incomprehensible.

    In February 1756, Adams wrote in his diary about a discussion he had had with a man named Major Greene. Greene was a devout Christian who sought to persuade Adams to adopt conservative Christian views. The two argued over the divinity of Jesus and the Trinity. Questioned on the matter of Jesus’ divinity, Greene fell back on an old standby: some matters of theology are too complex and mysterious for we puny humans to understand.

    Adams was not impressed. In his diary he wrote, “Thus mystery is made a convenient cover for absurdity.”

    As president, Adams signed the famous Treaty of Tripoli, which boldly stated, “[T]he government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion….”

    3. Thomas Jefferson. It’s almost impossible to define Jefferson’s subtle religious views in a few words. As he once put it, “I am a sect by myself, as far as I know.” But one thing is clear: His skepticism of traditional Christianity is well established. Our third president did not believe in the Trinity, the virgin birth, the divinity of Jesus, the resurrection, original sin and other core Christian doctrines. He was hostile to many conservative Christian clerics, whom he believed had perverted the teachings of that faith.

    Jefferson once famously observed to Adams, “And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.”

  15. The U.S. Founding Fathers: Their Religious Beliefs
    Joseph Ellis – February 23, 2007

    Although the Declaration of Independence mentioned “Nature’s God” and the “Creator,” the Constitution made no reference to a divine being, Christian or otherwise, and the First Amendment explicitly forbid the establishment of any official church or creed. There is also a story, probably apocryphal, that Benjamin Franklin’s proposal to call in a chaplain to offer a prayer when a particularly controversial issue was being debated in the Constitutional Convention prompted Hamilton to observe that he saw no reason to call in foreign aid. If there is a clear legacy bequeathed by the founders, it is the insistence that religion was a private matter in which the state should not interfere.

    In recent decades Christian advocacy groups, prompted by motives that have been questioned by some, have felt a powerful urge to enlist the Founding Fathers in their respective congregations. But recovering the spiritual convictions of the Founders, in all their messy integrity, is not an easy task. Once again, diversity is the dominant pattern. Franklin and Jefferson were deists, Washington harbored a pantheistic sense of providential destiny, John Adams began a Congregationalist and ended a Unitarian, Hamilton was a lukewarm Anglican for most of his life but embraced a more actively Christian posture after his son died in a duel.

    1. Elaine M quoted Joseph Ellis from a blog: “Franklin and Jefferson were deists…”

      Please don’t believe everything published on the Internet, and especially not this blog posting. Every historian knows that Jefferson professed to be a true Christian. He never professed to be a Deist. It was Jefferson’s enemies who called him a Deist or an Atheist. Franklin was not a Deist either, though in his biography he speaks how he became a “thorough Deist” after reading some books that refuted Deism. That was a tongue in cheek statement which he quickly follows with showing how he found Deism defective and then credits kind Providence and his guardian angel leading him to a better understanding. The falsehoods you republish here are preached continually by atheists, but every serious student of history quickly finds the sandy foundation for these assertions to be without merit. Read with a little more skepticism and go to the original sources to check out what is being said so you are not so easily misled by false reporters of history.

  16. The founders were also slave holders, they were also flawed human beings, as are we all. As thinking people we rethink, revamp, redo to make our existence in a modern world better and to keep us from killing each other because of being mired down in the past, which wasn’t always the good old days for everyone. If the Consitution was so darn perfect, why the need for the Amendments?

  17. Recall the Puritans and their ilk today — they had all the religious freedom they could stand in the Netherlands and were none to happy about the influence of the various types on their community . Part of their reason for coming to America was to be free of those influences and to impose their one type of religion on their community. Freedom to discriminate on religious grounds is the common heritage of our nation, but not our Constitutional heritage. Our [elitist] founders — mostly dieists or agnostics — sought to be free of any religious constraint except that which they freely chose to accept and, being humanists in the age of enlightenment, their beliefs were often at distinct odds with orthodoxy. To permit an employer today, based on religious grounds, to purchase health insurance for employees which excludes coverage for specific women services is to honor our common, but not our Constitutional, heritage.

    1. Oro Lee wrote: “Our [elitist] founders — mostly dieists or agnostics — ”

      The idea that our nation’s founders were mostly deists or agnostics is another one of those falsehoods preached by atheists. The truth is that most of them were Christian.

      Lambert (2003) has examined the religious affiliations and beliefs of the Founders. Of the 55 delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention, 49 were Protestants, and two were Roman Catholics (D. Carroll, and Fitzsimons).

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