MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — One Alabama lawmaker filed a bill requiring local school boards to provide school resources to students to facilitate prayer.
House Bill 35 says school boards must let students leading prayers use resources, like the PA system for instance, to communicate the prayer to the audience.
“This isn’t limiting anyone,” said Alabama Citizens Action Program President Greg Davis. “This is actually freeing people up to practice religion. Again, First Amendment rights. You don’t give those up because you’re at a public location.”
The bill also states school boards and athletic associations cannot prohibit or interfere with voluntary, student-led and student-initiated prayer during both compulsory and noncompulsory activities, like graduation or a football game.
Davis said this bill supports freedom of expression but acknowledges it could face challenges.
“I’m sure this will be challenged in the courts,” Davis said. “We’ll see, but that’s what the process is all about.”
Brittany Williams with American Atheists tracks bills across the country, looking for those that could be struck down in court.
“House Bill 35 is blatantly unconstitutional,” Williams said.
Williams said she’s noticed a rise recently in school prayer bills following the Supreme Court’s ruling last summer favoring a high school football coach’s right to pray on the field.
She thinks this bill will be challenged if it passes.
“We want people to be able to pray by all means,” Williams said. “That is your inherent right. But at the same time, when it’s being forced onto others and especially within the public capacity, that’s when it’s a problem, and when it’s endorsed by the government.”
Rep. Tracy Estes (R-Winfield), the bill sponsor, said his intent is not to invite legal challenge.
He said he simply wants to solidify that student-led prayer is protected by the state, calling this bill a preventive measure.