Indiana lawmakers scrap plan to set aside school prayer time

AP News
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Posted: Mar 22, 2017 6:58 PM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana senators scrapped a proposal Wednesday that would've mandated time for public prayer during assemblies, sports competitions and other school events, amid questions about how such a policy would affect non-Christian students.

The Senate Education and Career Development Committee voted unanimously to strip the provision from a bill that had already passed the House by an 83-12 vote. It also encourages high schools to teach classes on world religions and affirms the right of students to wear religious clothing or jewelry.

Under the stripped provision, districts would have been required to create a "limited public forum" for prayer at school events, and students who wanted to be excused from religious speech would be given "reasonable accommodations."

At least three states — Georgia, Mississippi and Missouri — have enacted laws with language calling for a "public forum" for voluntary student religious expression at school events. Still, many opponents questioned the necessity of such a proposal, saying schools already acknowledge freedom of religion.

Rep. John Bartlett, an Indianapolis Democrat who proposed the initial measure, said he hoped that exposing students to religion could lead to better behavior and a more prayerful life. But the proposal sparked hours of discussion at a meeting two weeks ago, particularly concerns about how students from different faiths or who aren't religious would be treated.

Some opponents said at the bill's first hearing in the Senate committee that they have a "hard time picturing" that the religious expression of minority religious groups would be treated the same as a Christian one.

"What if a group of Muslim students wanted to pray right in that ceremony? How would that have been accepted — or would it have caused an outcry?" Democratic Sen. Mark Stoops said.

Sen. Luke Kenley, a Noblesville Republican, joined his colleagues in voting to remove the requirement, saying that that specific provision in the original bill "pushes just a little too hard."

The amended version of Bartlett's bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration. The panel rejected amendments that would have mandated a comparative religion class and applied the bill's requirements to private schools.