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Prayer at School Events Passes First Legislative Hurdle

November 2nd, 2011 by Anna Laura Rehwinkel

Should students be allowed to pray at school events? That’s the question lawmakers are trying to answer. Opponents of the school prayer bill say it sets the stage for lawsuits, but as Whitney Ray tells us, supporters say prayer is freedom of speech.

Praying for student prayer after a heartfelt debate in a committee Wednesday morning, Senator Larcenia Bullard was brought to tears.

She wasn’t supposed to be here. Bullard suffered a heart attack before last session her chances for recovery were slim.

“Had it not been for prayer, even to my doctors who said I will never question your faith again, I would not be sitting here today,” said Bullard.

Bullard says prayer saved her life; now she wants kids to be able to pray at school events.

The prayer wouldn’t happen during regular school hours, but could be held at secondary school events like football games and graduation. The prayer bill allows student governments to nominate a student to pray. The content of the prayer would be left up their discretion.

The ACLU and Anti-Defamation League say the state is too diverse to offer a prayer to just one religion and say if the bill passes lawsuits would abound.

“It could be to any faith. It could be to my faith, the Jewish faith, Adonai, Jesus, Buddha; it doesn’t matter. That’s not the role of the public schools,” said David Barkley with the ADL.

The bill’s sponsor, Senator Gary Siplin, says it’s about freedom of speech.

“We ought to formalize it some way to allow the student to get together and have some type of benediction an invocation,” said Siplin.

The bill passed the committee with just one no vote. Its next stop is the Senate Judicial Committee, where opponents expect a closer vote. The bill has bipartisan support, but it also has bipartisan opposition. Similar bills have been filed almost every year over the past 20 years. The bill sponsor believes this year it will pass because he’s seeking legal advice to draft the bill to withstand court challenges.

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