Kentucky Lawmakers to Vote on Voluntary Prayer

| by Kendal Mitchell
Bell County High School.Bell County High School.

State legislators in the Kentucky State Judiciary Committee passed a bill on Feb. 5 that would allow the voluntary expression of religious or political viewpoint in a school setting.

Senate Bill 71 would allow students in Kentucky schools to lead prayer at public school events, said bill sponsor Sen. Albert Robinson.

The bill, now under consideration in the state Senate, was a response to complaint filed by a group that stated prayer before school-sponsored events went against the Constitution.

In 2011, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a group that works to maintain separation of church and state, claimed that school officials in Bell County violated the First Amendment when the school led a prayer over the public-address system before football games.

The nearly 20-year tradition ended in 2011, said Sandra Stepp, wife of Rev. Ray Stepp who normally led the pre-game prayer.

"He had done the prayer at Bell County High School before football games for over 20 years until they stopped it in 2011," Sandra said. "I actually think it caused more people to pray because he wasn't allowed to pray over the intercom."

Yvonne Gilliam, Bell County superintendent, said school officials decided to stop the tradition in light of the 2011 complaint.

"I have a folder of concerns that they voiced over the years relative to students expressing their religious beliefs," Gilliam said.

While the sponsors of the bill say it aims to protect students’ rights, others said they think the bill is not needed.

“(Senate Bill 71 is) an unnecessary attempt to overregulate in an area already protected by the First Amendment," said Derek Selznick, the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky program director.

Gilliam said she supports the bill because it would give extra protection for students to express religious and political beliefs without fear of discrimination.

"It will make what our students have the freedom to do already legal," Gilliam said. 

Sources: Lexington Herald-Leader, WKYT Photo Credit: