Religion

Illinois Legislature Scheduled To Vote On School Prayer

| by Kendal Mitchell
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Illinois state lawmakers sponsored a new piece of legislation that would allow students in public schools to voluntarily pray at any time during the day.

The bill, House Bill 0165, would amend the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act, existing law that states teachers can start the school day with brief moments of silence.

State Representatives Mary Flowers and LaShawn Ford added new amendments to the law, which would let students engage in self-led prayer.

A synopsis of the bill states it would, "(allow) students in the public schools to voluntarily engage in individually initiated, non-disruptive prayer, provides that such praying may take place at any time during the school day." The bill would also allow religious-based meetings during school hours.

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According to the Illinois State Legislature, the bill has been placed on the calendar order for a third reading preceding a short debate. Fifteen other state legislators have signed onto the bill as co-sponsors as of March 26.

While the debate about student-led prayer occurs across the country, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that teachers and other school officials could not force children to engage in religious observances due to the Establishment Clause in the Constitution.

In the 1962 Engel v. Vitale case, the court ruled that government officials could not recite prayer in public schools because the prayer "violated the First Amendment by constituting an establishment of religion."

The following year, the court decided that it is unconstitutional for schools to sponsor Bible classes and lead children in the Lord’s Prayer.

While some believe school prayer toes the line separating church and state, a majority of Americans support daily prayer in the classroom.

In a 2014 Gallop poll, 61 percent of Americans said they think that students should be allowed to say a daily prayer in the classroom.

If approved, the Illinois bill would take immediate effect.

Sources: Local 12, IJL Review, Illinois State Legislature, Gallop, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State

Photo Credit: WikiMedia Commons, Cassidy Lancaster/Flickr