Montgomery, Ala. (CBS ATLANTA) — Alabama teachers would be required to read a congressional prayer each day, in proposed legislation that one lawmaker says would teach the “formal procedures” of the U.S. Congress.
State Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Munford, said the bill would allow teachers and principals to choose the prayer to be read to students only during the first 15 minutes of class each day, the Anniston Star reports. Hurst argues that the process simply mimics the procedure used by Congress, but civil liberties groups say the bill is a coercive move to place religion in public schools.
“If Congress can open with a prayer, and the state of Alabama Legislature can, I don’t see why schools can’t,” Hurst told the Anniston Star. “I wouldn’t be the one picking out the prayer.”
“They could read the prayer from the day war was declared in World War II (or) they could read the prayer the day after Sept. 11,” he said, noting that the bill could help students in learning about civics and history.
House Bill 318, scheduled for an education committee hearing on Wednesday, would allocate up to a maximum of 15 minutes of the first class of each day “for study of the formal procedures followed by U.S. Congress.” This would require “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 congressional meetings.
But Susan Watson, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, sees the legislation as a back door attempt to bring teacher-led prayers into public schools.
“Religious practices and beliefs are best taught at home and in our religious institutions,” Watson told the Star. “The Alabama Legislature can try to pass anything it wants, but our public schools must still abide by the United States Constitution.”
School prayer advocates argue that civic and other legislative bodies often open with religiously-affiliated invocations, but Watson said those sessions are attended voluntarily.
“Children in school are a captive audience” she told the Star.
A Democrat running against Hurst, Stephanie Engle, stated that there are more effective ways to discuss faith in classrooms.
“I think prayer is important in anybody’s life,” she said. “I think it would behoove everyone to have a course in comparative religions, but setting aside 15 minutes for a prepared prayer isn’t as constructive.”