Texas bill would allow "prayer and Bible reading on each school day"
State Sen. Mayes Middleton's unconstitutional bill is all about promoting Christian Nationalism
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A Texas lawmaker has filed a bill that would allow public schools to have a “period of prayer and Bible reading on each school day.”
SB 1396, sponsored by State Sen. Mayes Middleton, includes plenty of caveats meant to avoid legal trouble, but the bill is still blatantly unconstitutional and promotes a Christian Nationalist agenda.
As it stands, Texas law already requires students to say the (religious) Pledge of Allegiance as well as the (also religious) Pledge of Allegiance (Texas edition). Students are able to opt out only with written permission from their parents or guardians. Schools also allow a one-minute moment of silence so students can do whatever they want (like prayer).
Middleton wants to waste even more classroom time. But when he tried a similar gambit two years ago, his bill went nowhere, perhaps out of fear that it would lead to a lawsuit.
You can tell he’s hoping to avoid that result this time around.
Mayes’ new bill is opt-in, meaning students would need to provide a “signed consent form” that acknowledges three things:
They have a choice whether or not to participate in the prayer and Bible reading.
They have no objection to the prayer and Bible reading.
They promise not to sue over the prayer and Bible reading.
What about the students who don’t want to participate at all? Well, the bill prohibits the prayers and Bible readings from being delivered over the schools’ public address systems and explicitly says those prayers/readings cannot be delivered “in the physical presence or within the hearing” of someone who doesn’t want to participate. (In other words, those who want to pray and read the Bible together could go to a designated classroom or do everything before the first bell rings.)
The bill also tasks the state’s attorney general with defending any school that gets sued over this, with taxpayers footing the bill. But if they lose the case, Middleton says, the state wouldn’t be liable for any of the costs. (Which raises a question of who would be on the hook to pay those claims.) Several pages of the eight-page bill are dedicated to saying the state can’t be held responsible for anything that goes wrong.
And then, just for good measure, the bill takes a different provision of the state law that says “A person may not require, encourage, or coerce a student to engage in or refrain from such prayer or meditation during any school activity”… and simply eliminates the word “encourage.”
The message is clear: Middleton wants teachers and administrations to encourage kids to join in the newly designated Christian portion of the school day.
But despite the several pages meant to shield the bill from any lawsuits, the entire thing would still be illegal.
The Supreme Court ruled in 1962 that school-sponsored prayers in public schools were unconstitutional. An opt-in approach wouldn’t negate any of that.
Ryan Jayne, Senior Policy Counsel for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, had no hesitation in saying the bill was doomed in a statement to Friendly Atheist:
The bill is unconstitutional. It would allow school districts to force schools to hold school-sponsored, school-organized prayer sessions for staff and students. This sends a clear message to students that this event's religious message is preferred by the school, regardless of whether anyone is forced to attend.
The bill's author seems to think that requiring parental consent fixes the problem, but it does not. One of the most important Supreme Court cases on the topic, Lee v. Weisman, involved an optional graduation ceremony. The Court concluded that there was still coercion to attend, in clear violation of the Establishment Clause. But that case was just one prayer, given by an outside adult. This bill would allow a school-sponsored, staff-delivered prayer every day. Students will absolutely feel pressure to attend these religious gatherings from their school, which is unconstitutional.
The bill gives the game away on the last page. By removing the word "encourage" from the list of things staff can't do to students regarding prayer, the bill is explicitly aimed at allowing staff to pressure kids to pray.
Even besides the legal problems with the bill, there are all kinds of questions regarding why this bill is even needed.
Why do kids need time at school to read the Bible? Why can’t they do it at home?
The bill says the opt-in request would acknowledge that the people involved have a “choice” in participating. But let’s face it: If both the student and parents are okay with it, they could do it at home. If students are not okay with it, then there’s a good chance they’re unable to say that to their parents. There’s coercion here whether it’s legal or not.
Why single out Bible readings and not something from the Qur’an or other holy books? (We know the answer to this one.)
How much time will be spent doing these readings? The bill doesn’t specify.
Will kids miss any class by taking part in the Bible reading? If so, which subjects are they skipping?
Which sections of the Bible will be read? Who decides? Are we doing Genesis 38?
What will be the repercussions for the kids who aren’t Christian or don’t want to participate in this? If everyone else is reading the Bible during school, will they be ostracized? Does Middleton give a damn about the inevitable rise in bullying his bill would create?
There’s literally no reason for this bill to exist and it creates far more drama for everyone involved than whatever the status quo is now. It’s a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.
Students are already allowed to pray on their own. They can do it in groups. They can form Bible clubs. They can pray silently all day long. They can read the Bible in their free time.
The last things Texas students need is less time getting educated and more time getting indoctrinated.
(Portions of this article were published earlier, because Middleton has tried this shit before.)
Conservative Christians never stop trying to mark their territory in the public schools paid for with everyone's tax dollars. Forcing religion on today's kids isn't going to have the happy ending they're hoping for. The fool who wrote this bill would go out of his tiny little mind if anyone suggested reading from the Koran.
When I went to school in the 1970ies, a prayer before school lunch was common. After a few years I refused praying, and in return was refused eating lunch AND reported to the head of the school. My mother had a meeting with the headmaster. No-one had to say a prayer before lunch after that.