INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
An Indiana bill that reaffirms students’ right to pray aloud in public
schools is prompting debate over how students of minority religions would be
affected by the practice.
requires school districts to adopt a policy allowing for a “limited public
forum” for prayer at school events such as sports games or assemblies. The
idea, Democratic state Rep. John Bartlett said, is to put prayer back in
schools in the hopes that exposing students to religion could lead to better
behavior and a more prayerful life.
But lawmakers and
advocates are questioning how a school community would respond to
non-Christian requests and how students in the minority might be burdened.
Some say 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
Under the bill,
students who don’t want to participate would be given “reasonable
accommodations” if they want to be excused from a religious speech.
Still, to some,
that move gives more power to the majority at the expense of the minority.
“The onus” would
then be placed on “the one who does not consent to the prayer - to leave the
room or bow their head in shame and quietly mumble ‘Amen’ - rather than
where the onus is currently, and should be,” Rabbi Shelley Goldman said,
“with the faithful person, to find a moment and space for private prayer in
public school without imposing such prayer on others.”
To protect from one
religious viewpoint dominating the forum, the proposal instructs school
districts to select students who may speak based on “neutral criteria.” A
model policy would be drafted in cooperation with the state’s attorney
general and schools chief.
his bill is a chance for those with religious beliefs to express them aloud,
which could have a positive impact on peers.
“Where we’re headed
today, we need some spiritual guidance,” he said. “Is this the answer? I
don’t know. I think we need to try this.”
say school is a place to learn and that any differences brought to light
could be an opportunity to educate students on different cultures or
At least three
states have enacted laws with language establishing a “public forum” for
religious expression at school events. Still, many opponents questioned the
necessity of such a proposal, saying schools already acknowledge freedom of
The House approved
the measure in an 83-12 vote last month. Other provisions encourage high
school classes on world religion and affirm students’ right to wear
religious clothing or jewelry.
education committee held its first hearing on the bill Wednesday. A second
meeting, where lawmakers could provide amendments and decide whether or not
to advance the bill, has yet to be scheduled.