Published December 20, 2015
Public school teachers in Alabama would be required to begin each day by reading opening prayers that were given in Congress under a bill proposed by a Republican lawmaker.
The bill would set aside 15 minutes at the start of each school day to study the procedures of Congress, and give a verbatim reading of a congressional opening prayer, The Anniston Star reported.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Steve Hurst, told the newspaper that teachers could choose a prayer related to the day's lesson. He said teachers might choose a prayer that was said on a particular day in history.
"If Congress can open with a prayer, and the state of Alabama Legislature can, I don't see why schools can't," Hurst said. "They could read the prayer from the day war was declared in World War II. They could read the prayer the day after Sept. 11."
The House Education Policy Committee held a public hearing Wednesday on the legislation.
Opponents argue the proposal is unconstitutional.
Susan Watson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, told The Anniston Star the proposal is teacher-led prayer being dressed up as a civics lesson.
"Religious practices and beliefs are best taught at home and in our religious institutions," Watson said. "The Alabama Legislature can try to pass anything it wants, but our public schools must still abide by the United States Constitution."
Watson said a prayer in school isn't the same as prayer given as part of an invocation at the opening of state and federal legislative sessions.
"Children in school are a captive audience," she told the newspaper.
Hurst said his bill would allow teachers or principals to choose the prayer that would be read to students. He says the bill would help students learn more about history and civics.
Stephanie Engle, a Democrat running for Hurst's seat, told the newspaper there are better ways to address faith in the classroom.
“I think prayer is important in anybody’s life,” she said. “I think it would behoove everyone to have a course in comparative religions, but setting aside 15 minutes for a prepared prayer isn’t as constructive.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report,