The new year begins much like the old year ended with unnecessary calls for “returning” religious prayer to the public schools. Indiana State Senator Dennis Kruse (R) introduced a bill, on the first day of a new legislative session, to force children in public schools to pray at the start of each day. Not only would such a law violate the 1st amendment, it simply isn’t needed. Prayer wasn’t removed from schools, only forced recitation is prohibited.
The bill, introduced on the first day of the new legislative session by Republican Senator Dennis Krause, outlines Kruse’s reasoning for requiring school prayer:
“In order that each student recognize the importance of spiritual development in establishing character and becoming a good citizen, the governing body of a school corporation or the equivalent authority of a charter school may require the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer at the beginning of each school day. The prayer may be recited by a teacher, a student, or the class of students.”
Despite the clear violation of the First Amendment, conservatives have taken a renewed interest in school prayer after the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Several prominent conservatives, including Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich, used the deaths of 27 people — including 20 elementary school students — as an opportunity to blame the lack of religion in schools for gun violence.
Kruse seems to be like most fundamentalist lawmakers who believe that public displays of faith, even if you are forced to do it, should be more important than increasing jobs, dealing with poverty, or a whole host of issues a state lawmaker needs to address. I would also question the decision making of an elected official who believes praying to a God so capricious and evil to allow the murder of 20 children JUST BECAUSE they aren’t forced to pray to that God every day in school.
This isn’t the first time Senator Kruse has tried to put God above the US Constitution:
You may remember Kruse. In 2011, he proposed a bill that would have mandated the teaching of “creation science” alongside evolution in public schools. This year, he has proposed a similar bill that would promote “critical inquiry,” a euphemism for creationism, in the classroom.
Last year’s venture gained a lot of legislative support until some lawmakers realized it would have been blatantly unconstitutional. It seems those same lawmakers are weary of Kruse’s “critical inquiry” bill, too. Rep. Bob Behning, (R-Indianapolis), chair of the House Education Committee, says he’s not inclined to bring it up.
And there are other problems with Kruse’s need to force prayer into the schools:
But that’s not the only problem here. Which version of the Lord’s Prayer, exactly, would schools use? Did Kruse even consider that there are multiple forms of the prayer said by different denominations of Christianity?
Then there’s the opt-out cop-out, which Kruse seems to think would make this plan less legally problematic. It doesn’t, and anyone who opts out would likely face some form of ostracism by the majority. Schools are supposed to make all students feel welcome, not create an atmosphere where minorities get bullied.
Not only are such laws unconstitutional but they also aren’t needed:
The Court highlighted that “nothing in the Constitution as interpreted by this Court prohibits any public school student from voluntarily praying at any time before, during, or after the schoolday. But the religious liberty protected by the Constitution is abridged when the State affirmatively sponsors the particular religious practice of prayer.” Based on these principles, some scholars had predicted that “student-initiated activities such as early morning prayer meetings around the schoolhouse flagpole should pass Constitutional muster, so long as the school authorities refrain from encouraging or discouraging students from participating.” But, when schools either expressly direct or permit parents to direct “See You at the Pole” events for elementary school students, or when school officials participate in such events, they violate the Establishment Clause.
Students are free to pray anytime they want as long as the school isn’t leading it or forcing it to happen and that the praying isn’t disrupting the class or school.
I think Senator Kruse needs a refresher on the law.