The Louisiana State Legislature has given its final approval to a bill that affirms the right of students to hold prayer meetings in the state's public schools. On June 1 the state Senate voted unanimously in favor of House Bill 724, which was previously approved by the state Assembly. Introduced in the Senate by Democrat Katrina Jackson, the bill confirms that students of any faith background can receive permission from school officials to use classrooms, assembly halls, or other available space for prayer or reflection. Additionally, noted the Shreveport Times, “a teacher or school administrator, parent or someone from the community may be invited to participate or supervise.”
Another of the bill's sponsors, Democratic Senator Sharon Broome, conceded that students can already do what the bill specifies, but she said that many are not aware of their rights, or have been intimidated into silence by secular groups attempting stop religious expression. Broome told the Times that she believes more prayer in schools is needed “with all the challenges young people face today.” Republican Senator Mike Walsworth, another of the bill's supporters, said that when students become aware of the law, “I think more will gather together at a more peaceful time, holding hands.”
While the bill does not change the present climate for religious expression in Louisiana's public schools, the atheist group Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) nonetheless took the opportunity to criticize the state legislature for publicly affirming the right of students to pray. “Let’s get something straight,” simpered the AU atheists in a statement. “Truly voluntary student prayer has always been legal in public schools. Neither the Constitution, nor the Supreme Court has ever said otherwise. But this divisive bill goes far beyond that fact and pushes school districts into problematic territory.”
The secular group complained that with the passage of H.B. 724, “the Louisiana legislature has invited sectarian tensions into a place where all children should feel welcome regardless of their feelings about faith. It is shameful that not one single Louisiana legislator had the courage to stand up and say this bill is wrong.”
Click here to read the entire article and see video of Roy Costner IV, valedictorian of Liberty High School in Pickens County, South Carolina at the podium at his high school graduation.