An Illinois lawmaker has recently called for the official recognition of prayer, or general religious symbolism, in U.S. public schools so students may turn toward religion "when they feel weak."
The lawmaker's recent comments contribute to the ongoing debate on how to effectively end school violence, such as the mass shooting that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14.
"I also urge the ministers here to fight to get prayer back in schools. That's a mission that we need to do. We need to make sure that we get prayer back in schools in some form or fashion," Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago) recently told a group of ministers, as reported by the Alton Daily News.
Ford, who has recently pleaded not guilty to charges of federal bank fraud, added that if official prayer cannot be allowed in schools, students should have access to religious shrines on campus to seek peace, should they feel troubled.
According to CBS St. Louis, Ford's suggestion was not well-received by the ministers to whom he spoke, who argued that establishing official prayer in schools is not on their top priority list.
According to the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a nonpartisan educational organization, official prayer is not permitted in public schools in the U.S.
The law does not forbid students from praying on their own, but rather forbids school authority from composing a prayer for students to recite.
A separate decision made by the Supreme Court in 1963 found school-sponsored Bible reading to also be unconstitutional.
"It is important to remember that in these decisions the Supreme Court did not 'remove prayer from public schools.' The court removed only government-sponsored worship. Public school students have always had the right to pray on their own as class schedules permit," asserts the Americans United group.
The debate regarding official prayer in schools has once again become a topic of popular discussion after the Dec. 14 mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., in which 27 lives were taken.
The shooting left many Americans searching for a solution to end tragedies such as these, and while many propose stricter gun laws, others argue that God and religion must be re-instituted in schools so students feel more obligated to a higher power and to their fellow man.
"We ask why there's violence in our school but we've systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools have become such a place of carnage? Because we've made it a place where we don't want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability," Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, said on his Fox News show "Huckabee" on Dec. 15.