INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
Indiana senators scrapped a proposal Wednesday that would’ve mandated time
for public prayer during assemblies, sports competitions and other school
events, amid questions about how such a policy would affect non-Christian
Education and Career Development Committee voted unanimously to strip the
provision from a bill that had already passed the House by an 83-12 vote. It
also encourages high schools to teach classes on world religions and affirms
the right of students to wear religious clothing or jewelry.
Under the stripped
provision, districts would have been required to create a “limited public
forum” for prayer at school events, and students who wanted to be excused
from religious speech would be given “reasonable accommodations.”
At least three
states - Georgia, Mississippi and Missouri - have enacted laws with language
calling for a “public forum” for voluntary student religious expression at
school events. Still, many opponents questioned the necessity of such a
proposal, saying schools already acknowledge freedom of religion.
Rep. John Bartlett,
an Indianapolis Democrat who proposed the initial measure, said he hoped
that exposing students to religion could lead to better behavior and a more
prayerful life. But the proposal sparked hours of discussion at a meeting
two weeks ago, particularly concerns about how students from different
faiths or who aren’t religious would be treated.
Some opponents said
at the bill’s first hearing in the Senate committee that they have a “hard
time picturing” that the religious expression of minority religious groups
would be treated the same as a Christian one.
“What if a group of
Muslim students wanted to pray right in that ceremony? How would that have
been accepted - or would it have caused an outcry?” Democratic Sen. Mark
Sen. Luke Kenley, a
Noblesville Republican, joined his colleagues in voting to remove the
requirement, saying that that specific provision in the original bill
“pushes just a little too hard.”
The amended version
of Bartlett’s bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration. The panel
rejected amendments that would have mandated a comparative religion class
and applied the bill’s requirements to private schools.