Monday, January 6, 2014

South Carolina Bill to Mandate Prayer in Schools: A Marvel in Quadruple Unconstitutionality

South Carolina Democrats have renewed a bill that would put "prayer back in schools."  I did not know if ever left.  No Supreme Court decision has ever done anything to limit a student's voluntary desire to pray.  Assuming students still have that desire, they can pretty much pray any time they want, although during classroom instruction may require that they pray silent.  What the Supreme Court has held is that school officials cannot lead  students in prayer, endorse prayer, construct settings that coerce students to pray, or give students who wish to pray beneficial treatment.

The proposed bill in South Carolina states "All schools shall provide for a minute of mandatory silence at the beginning of each school day, during which time the teacher may deliver a prayer, provided the school allows a student to leave the classroom if the student does not want to listen to or participate in the prayer."  I will have to give South Carolina legislators credit for this one.  It would seem to violate all four of the above constitutional prohibitions.  It provides for teachers to lead prayer.  It goes way beyond just endorsement; it mandates time explicitly for prayer.  By asking those who do not wish to pray to leave, it asks them to single themselves out as non-believers/non-prayers and, thus, coerces their participation in prayer.  Asking everyone who does not wish to prayer to leave the classroom also giver praying students preferential treatment.  They get to stay in place while others presumably stand in the hall.

Representative William Gilliard, however, sees this as a compromise bill, reasoning that "students to pray to whomever they want to. If they want to do away with teachers conducting the prayer that would be fine with us. The essential part of the bill, the important part, is putting prayer back in school. There would be no noise, no disruption, no anything. But the teacher would conduct it to let the students know we would have one minute for a moment of silence of prayer. That person can pray to whomever they please.”

For obvious reasons, this bill has stalled in the judiciary committee.  But with support from democrats, I would not write this bill off, particularly in a legislature that both now and historically spends a lot of time on "nullification" bills.

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