An Alabama state legislator plans to bring a bill to allow students in public schools to lead forms of religious expression to the Alabama House floor in March.
Rep. Mack Butler, a member of the Alabama House of Representatives, said the bill would require school districts to let students pray aloud and express their religious views through clothing choices, meetings of small groups, homework assignments and art expression.
As a former education board member in Etowah County, Alabama, Butler said he wanted this bill to clarify the rights of students across the state.
“I want the school boards to set up policy, then everybody should know and be more aware of it, that the students have their rights,” Butler said.
Language in the bill states that students in public schools may pray or engage in religious activities or religious expression before, during, and after the school day. It adds that students who want to participate in religious expression can do so the same way a student can perform in and be a part of a nonreligious activity.
Butler introduced the same bill in 2013 and 2014, but neither made it to the floor of the House for a vote.
Members of First Amendment groups fear teachers will overstep their boundaries and turn the student-led clubs into groups that will carry official sanctions.
Susan Watson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Alabama, said she thinks this bill is redundant.
In 2000, then-Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor sent a memo to state superintendents that said students are allowed to display self-initiated forms of religious expression.
Although the language of the bill echoes Pryor’s memo, Butler said he thinks there is still a need for this law on the books. He said he met with teachers who are afraid to talk about religion in class out of the fear of a potential lawsuit.
Sources: Montgomery Advisor
Photo Credit: Alabama House of Representatives, Wikimedia Commons