State Representative Steve Hurst (R) has proposed a bill in the Alabama legislature that would set aside 15 minutes of every school morning for students to recite a prayer.
The proposed legislation, House Bill 318, was introduced last month.
Hurst argues the goal of the legislation is to have students take the quarter hour each day to learn about history and civics. The bill characterizes the extra time in the morning being used “for study of the formal procedures followed by U.S. Congress.” This would require “a reading verbatim of one of the opening prayers given by the House or Senate Chaplain or a guest member of the clergy.”
“If Congress can open with a prayer, and the state of Alabama Legislature can, I don’t see why schools can’t,” Hurst said.
“They could read the prayer from the day war was declared in World War II (or) they could read the prayer the day after Sept. 11,” he added.
Critics view the new bill simply as a way to get teacher-led prayer back into public schools under the guise of studying history.
“Children in school are a captive audience,” said Susan Watson, spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union. “Religious practices and beliefs are best taught at home and in our religious institutions.”
“The Alabama Legislature can try to pass anything it wants, but our public schools must still abide by the United States Constitution,” Watson said.
Hurst, who was once a Democrat, switched parties in 2010 and is now locked in a primary battle for his seat with Munford, Ala. businessman Steve Dean. Some see Hurst’s bill as an attempt to cater to the religious wing of his party prior to the primary.
If that is the case, Dean was careful not to denounce the bill saying, “It’s interesting, but I don’t jump in to support a bill I haven’t read.”
Stephanie Engle, the Democrat vying for Hurst’s seat, tread lightly as well when asked about the legislation. “I think prayer is important in anybody’s life,” she said. “I think it would behoove everyone to have a course in comparative religions, but setting aside 15 minutes for a prepared prayer isn’t as constructive.”
The bill is scheduled for an education committee hearing Wednesday.