A new Tennessee law signed by Gov. Bill Haslam encourages people to pray on Aug. 1 and 2 for the successful start of the new school year.
Local sponsors of the bill worked with First Priority Blue Ridge of Johnson City, a Christian organization. Executive Director Haley Wherry says that the law is a “call to action” rather than a rule, WCYB reports.
“Tennesseans are encouraged to pray for protection, guidance and peace, and for opportunities and blessings on the students of Tennessee,” the bill states. The bill passed almost unanimously. The bill passed the Tennessee State Senate 33-0, and the Tennessee House 95-2. Both "no" votes came from Democrats from Memphis.
Republican Sen. Rusty Crowe of Tennessee, a sponsor of the bill, stated in a release from the Senate Republican Caucus, “Many students face extreme challenges in school today both academically and due to peer pressure or low self-esteem.”
He added, “This legislation sets a weekend which will serve as a reminder that we need to pray for our students and also give thanks for them and the school personnel who will guide them over the academic year.”
Some see the bill as a way to promote religion at a state level, though Wherry claims it was crafted to be inclusive of all religions. Currently, lawmakers are discussing whether to recognize the Bible as Tennessee’s official state book, Johnson City Press reports.
Sam Grover, an attorney with the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) issued a statement on the bill, saying, “FFRF imagines educators would prefer that Tennessee legislators spend their time addressing real issues within the state rather than pandering to religious constituents.”
Grover believes the bill “falls short of taking any real step toward education reform.”
He also argued that state-endorsed prayer violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
“If Tennessee legislators want to honor educators, then the best thing for them to do is get off their knees and get back to work,” Grover said.
Johnson City Press noted a double-blind study on 799 coronary patients to determine the effectiveness of intercessory prayer found that prayer affected no positive change on cardiovascular disease progression after hospital discharge. These results are consistent with other studies on intercessory prayer.
Republican Rep. John Holsclaw of Tennessee disagrees, saying “Prayer makes a difference.” He says he hopes people and churches will “focus on praying for these students as they start the 2015-2016 school year.”