A new bill in the Illinois General Assembly would amend the state's Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act. If enacted, HB 0165 would allow students to hold group prayer or religious-based meetings.
In the provision of the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act, which allows students in public schools to voluntarily engage in individual or collectively initiated, non-disruptive prayer, the bill would add that such praying may take place during "non-instructional time" which the Illinois General Assembly defines as “time set aside by a school before actual classroom instruction begins or after actual classroom instruction ends.”
Illinois State Reps. Mary Flowers and LaShawn Ford, both Democrats, teamed up to sponsor the legislation. Since the bill was filed on Jan. 14 it has picked up several more cosponsors from the Illinois House of Representatives and Senate.
Flowers said letting students organize prayer groups on school grounds should be the same as starting a sports team or any other club.
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"If students want to pray at the flagpole, if students want to read their Bibles at the flagpole, if they want to meditate at the flagpole — so be it — as long as it's non-disruptive," Flowers said.
Prayer groups would have to be student-run. No school employees or outside leaders would be allowed, in accordance with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which separates church and state.
Schools are already required to provide a "moment of silence" at the beginning of each school day, Our Quad Cities reports.
Student meetings for prayer during free time is already allowed in Illinois public schools, so the bill doesn’t grant any new rights, Friendly Atheist blog notes, but it is a legal means for Illinois lawmakers to get prayer back in schools.
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Displays of prayer and faith have been removed from schools since 1962, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a prayer approved by the New York Board of Regents for use in schools was a violation of the establishment clause, in the case Engel v. Vitale, Independent Journal Review reports.
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