South Carolina lawmakers are renewing their campaign to bring prayer back in schools, with an amended version of a previous bill that doesn’t leave atheists feeling left out.
State lawmakers have introduced a bill to hold a “moment of silence” at the beginning of each school day. Students would have the option of leaving the room if they don't want to participate in the minute of quiet reflection.
"There would be no noise, no disruption, no anything. But the teacher would conduct it to let the students know we would have one minute for a moment of silence of prayer. That person can pray to whomever they please," said Rep. Wendell Gilliard (D-Charleston), one of the legislators who introduced the bill.
The new bill is a revised version of a February 2013 proposal that called for teachers to lead students in prayer every morning. Ten state representatives supported the bill, most of them Democrat.
“Even the atheists, it gives them the option of praying or not praying without anybody interfering,” said Rep. Joseph Jefferson (D-Berkeley).
That doesn’t mean the bill’s supporters are leaving room for doubt about the reason for the legislation.
"The compromise would be to have the students to pray to whomever they want to. If they want to do away with teachers conducting the prayer that would be fine with us. The essential part of the bill, the important part, is putting prayer back in school," Gilliard said.
The local ACLU is monitoring the bill to make sure it doesn’t violate anyone’s constitutional rights.
“The rights of non-believers and minority faith observers must also be defended under our system and our constitution, if our state is to thrive in the 21st century as it did at its founding,” said Victoria Middleton, executive director for ACLU of South Carolina.
Many southern states have pushed for an increased presence of religion in schools. Last summer a South Carolina high school graduate drew applause, cheers, and YouTube views when he tore up his administration-approved valedictorian speech in favor of a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.
Putting prayer back in schools looks like it’ll be easier than removing it.