Four state representatives have introduced legislation that would permit more prayer in public schools, but the bills are in committee.
The representatives joined panelists Monday to discuss the pros and cons of prayer in schools during the Parent University Forum at Savannah Grove Baptist Church.
State Rep. Richie Yow, R-Chesterfield, said one bill would allow teachers to take part in student-led prayer. The second bill, Yow said, says teachers can conduct school-led prayer.
“It’s sad that we have to introduce a bill that gives us a God-given right to start with,” Yow said. “Right now, the way that it’s set up in the state is the teachers cannot pray with the students, even when they ask, and it’s our God-given right to be able to do that. We’re taking away freedom of speech, and these bills are just giving some of that freedom back that these families have earned.”
Michael Muhammad, a Muslim, said Christian prayers in schools can ostracize students of different beliefs. He said the Supreme Court already has ruled against the prayers by an 8-1 vote.
“It’s a slippery slope,” Muhammad said. “We’ve been down it before. Let’s leave it alone.”
Allie Brooks, a former educator, and Carol Wright, a psychologist, said prayer never left public schools.
“Praying in our schools is not against the law,” Brooks said. “Court rulings have been against school-led prayers that were a part of mandatory assemblies, such as graduations and athletic events. Student-led prayers and faith-based organizations have proven to be acceptable to the courts.”
In Florence School District 1, Brooks said there are Good News Clubs in every elementary school, Christian Learning Centers for all middle schools at off-campus sites, and Bible clubs in schools. Brooks said attendance is voluntary.
“These are just a few examples to document that prayer is alive and well in our schools,” Brooks said.
Rep. Bill Chumley, R-Spartanburg, said supporters should not be discouraged because the bills have not left committee. He said supporters should continue to advocate.
“When you take prayer out of schools, you replace it with metal detectors,” Chumley said.
Muhammad said he would like to see the studies that say prayer prevents violence.
Reps. Robert Williams, D-Darlington, and Mike Burns, R-Greenville, also attended the meeting in support of the proposed bills.