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2/28/2017 10:43:00 AM
EDITORIAL: Bill encouraging prayer attempts to legislate parenting

Herald Bulletin

An American's right to worship and right of free speech, though guaranteed in one sentence, often run counter to one another.

In essence, the First Amendment to the Constitution prohibits Congress from establishing religion or from abridging the freedom of speech. Our founders properly placed that federal responsibility with Congress.

But in Indiana, some legislators want to usurp Congress and blur that fine distinction.

House Bill 1024, authored by Rep. John Bartlett, a Democrat from the Lawrence area of Marion County, affirms a student's right to pray aloud in the classroom.

Certainly, a private prayer might be necessary when a student hasn't prepped for a pop quiz.

But as proposed, the affirmation for spoken prayer in a classroom is an idea ripe for bullying and teenage miscommunication. It also allows for an adult social agenda through political legislation to be introduced into the classroom.

Though the bill doesn't mandate that students pray, schools would have to establish rules for students who did not want to pray by either allowing them to leave the room or not participate.

Arguments could easily start as one student prays in support of the Right to Life movement and another prays for reproductive rights. Instead of attempting to encourage students to feel like they're a part of their classroom, some could be alienated.

Students in Indiana already have the freedom to practice religion in schools.

But many districts acknowledge that religious beliefs can lead to bullying. For example, the South Madison Community Schools district has a policy that prohibits students from using a personal communication device to transmit material that threatens another student based on sexual orientation, disability or religion, among other distinctions.

The threat of bullying due to religious comments, through spoken prayer, is all too real to middle or high school students.

This bill also steps over the line by encouraging high schools to offer classes on world religions. All teachers would have to be trained in how comments in those classes can be carried into hallways and other courses.

In this time of nervousness over religious radicalism, legislation encouraging exclusionary prayer is not wise. This is a time for district policies to embrace tolerance while keeping rein on religious flare-ups.

Indiana legislators in support of this House bill are clearly trying to say that parents have not done their duty in raising children with moral values.

House Bill 1024 is a misguided attempt at legislative parenting and encouraging teen dialogue about faith.

A seemingly well-meaning five-minute prayer session to start the school day may yield years of bullying and disrespect.

And that is not a lesson that should be taught in the classroom.

Related Stories:
• COMMENTARY: Proposed bill covering religion in Indiana schools isn't needed
• Hearing on prayer bill for Hoosier public schools continues in Indiana House
• Indiana House Bill 1024 would give schools guidance on student prayer rights
• Religious freedoms at heart of school prayer bill, proponents say
• Bill protecting school prayer moves forward in Indiana Senate

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