Last week, Alabama State Representative Steve Hurst (R) (obviously) introduced a bill that would require teachers read a prayer before class each day for up to 15 minutes. This is an obvious violation of separation of church and state, but it’s pretty clever how he’s trying to get around it: the prayer to be read will be a verbatim reading of a prayer used to open the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives, and will be considered part of a study of the U.S. government.
I learned of this bill via Gawker, where the headline was “Alabama Legislators Pass Bill Requiring School Prayer Every Morning.” As far as I can tell, the bill has not been passed yet and while the prayer would be required, students wouldn’t be required to sit through it. But it’s that last point that I feel is important – Hurst argues that the prayer wouldn’t violate students’ 1st Amendment rights. If that’s true, then why provide an alternative for non-Christian students? If this is really about learning about the U.S. government, then all students should be expected to attend the lesson.
But of course, that’s not what it’s about. The bill is just another way for Christians to force their religion into public spaces. It’s not enough that students are free to pray on their own as they see fit – instead, an authority figure should teach the kids prayer in the same way they teach multiplication tables. And by forcing the prayers to be chosen by the teacher from amongst those prayers that open Congress, Hurst ensures that the prayers in question are likely going to be Christian. It’s brilliant, really.
I have little doubt that this will never pass into law, and even if it does pass, there’s no way a court would allow it. With luck, though, the ridiculous bill will force courts to acknowledge that Congressional prayers at the federal, state, and community level are pointless and unconstitutional. The Supreme Court is considering this issue right now in Town of Greece vs. Galloway, and according to Americans United a decision is expected in June of this year. Let’s hope they notice Hurst’s bill and see the absurd consequences of allowing our governmental employees to officially endorse a religion at the start of every work day.