La. Gov. Signs Law Allowing Students to Gather for Prayer on School Grounds
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who has previously supported the teaching of creationism in the state's public schools, approved a bill Monday which allows students, faculty, parents, and special religious community leaders to gather for prayer on school grounds during "non-instruction" times.
House Bill 724, which was introduced earlier this year by State Rep. Katrina Jackson (D-Morehouse), states that school authorities may "permit public school students to gather for prayer before or after school or at any noninstructional time during the school day [and] provides for attendance by school employees, parents, and persons from the community under certain circumstances."
The bill does not limit the ability to pray to any one religious group, and reportedly falls under the constitutional rights of students because it allows for prayer to take place during non-educational time on a public school campus, or before the school day begins or after it ends.
Voluntary prayer at public schools during non-instructional times was already legal in the U.S., but proponents of this bill argue that it provides the proper guidelines to students so they know their religious rights without violating the First Amendment.
State Rep. Jackson told local KLFY news station that in a similar way to organizations and clubs at school campuses, students seeking to pray on campus should be allowed to host religious leaders in the community for their prayer sessions, given they receive permission by school administrators beforehand.
"Other organizations or clubs are able to bring speakers in, this bill allows them too with approval of school. We allow teachers who are not clocked in to also participate if students invite them and, if asked, they can lead the prayer," Jackson told KLFY.
Proponents of the bill, including Senator Sharon Broome (D-Baton Rouge), argue the bill is beneficial because students need the option of prayer at school "with all the challenges young people face today," according to the Shreveport Times.
Opponents of the bill argued that because voluntary prayer was already allowed in public schools during non-instruction times, the bill was pointless and pushed the state's school districts into problematic territory.
"Truly voluntary student prayer has always been legal in public schools. Neither the Constitution, nor the Supreme Court has ever said otherwise. But this divisive bill goes far beyond that fact and pushes school districts into problematic territory," Americans United for the Separation of Church and State wrote on its official website in early June.
"With this bill, the Louisiana legislature has invited sectarian tensions into a place where all children should feel welcome regardless of their feelings about faith. It is shameful that not one single Louisiana legislator had the courage to stand up and say this bill is wrong," the group added.
Along with House Bill 724 signed into law Monday, Gov. Jindal also signed into law 34 other bills so far this week, bringing the total number of bills he has signed since the start of the 2013 Regular Legislative Session to 294.
Jindal's approval of House Bill 724 does not come as a surprise to most, as he has previously been an advocate of religious freedom and expression in public schools.
In April, Jindal expressed support for the teaching of creationism and intelligent design during an interview with NBC, saying that he believes Louisiana schoolchildren deserve to "be exposed to the best science."
"I think teach them the best science. Give them the tools so they can make up their own mind, not only in science, but as they learn about other controversial issues, such as global warming or climate change. What're we scared of?" Jindal said in April.
Jindal, a Republican, has also been a proponent of the Louisiana Science Education Act, which he signed into law in 2008.
The LSEA allows for critical thinking and open discussion relating to issues such as evolution, origins of life, global warming, and cloning. Teachers may also use supplementary texts relating to creationism and intelligent design when discussing science in the classroom under the LSEA.
Proponents of the act argue that it equips students with important critical thinking skills when discussing controversial topics.