A Senate panel in Indiana is considering a legislation that would allow students to pray or participate in religious activities in public schools.
House Bill 1024, introduced by Rep. John Bartlett (D-Indianapolis), is aimed at preventing discrimination of students who pray in school or express their religious beliefs in non-disruptive ways. The measure would also allow students to wear clothing, accessories and jewelry that display religious messages or symbols.
Bartlett said that the aim of the proposal was to put prayer back in school in the hopes that exposing the students to religion would improve their behavior.
The proposal would also require school districts to create a limited public forum at school events so that students may speak freely about their faith without obstruction.
The measure was approved by the House last month by a vote of 38–12. The Senate Education and Career Development Committee held a discussion on the bill last week, during which, student Mary Zakrajsek testified how her pro-life poster was removed from the walls of Carmel High School while other messages are allowed to be posted.
"When I walk down the hallway, and I see rainbow pride flags and Democrat donkeys, I think that's pretty clear evidence of ideology that is promoted in public school systems. It became clear that it was our [pro-life] club in particular that was being discriminated against," said Zakrajsek.
When the House Education Committee was considering the bill last month, David W. Greene, Sr., president of the Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis, testified that prayer can help reduce moral decay among youth.
"I believe that school prayer may cause students to acknowledge a power greater than themselves, on which they can rely for comfort and help in times of trouble," Greene said, adding that it would lead to decreased reliance on drugs, alcohol, sex and other dangerous amusements.
Other lawmakers raised concerns about how the legislation would affect students in the minority and how a school community would respond to non-Christian requests.
"What if a group of Muslim students wanted to pray right in that ceremony? How would that have been accepted — or would it have caused an outcry?" said Democratic Sen. Mark Stoops, according to The Associated Press.
Some supporters maintained that school is a place to learn and that any differences brought to light could present an opportunity to teach students about different cultures and religions. Opponents of the measure questioned its necessity, saying schools already acknowledge the freedom of religion.
The Senate education committee has not yet scheduled a second hearing, where lawmakers could provide amendments and decide whether or not to advance the bill.