FFRF raises alarm on Louisiana public school prayer bill

1Shutterstock By oliveromg 

On Friday, May 18, Louisiana passed a bill that openly encourages public school teachers and coaches to participate in prayers with their students. The original version of the bill was so blatantly unconstitutional that even far-right "religious liberty" law firms openly warned state lawmakers that the bill "directly contradicts U.S. Supreme Court and lower court precedent on the issue" and that "there is zero chance SB 512 would survive an inevitable court challenge."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation cautions Louisiana public school districts that the final version of SB 512 will still encourage unconstitutional behavior. The passed bill states that public school employees may bow their head "in deference and respect" when their students engage in student-initiated and student-led prayer. Especially given its history, there is no question that this bill is intended to encourage teachers to participate in prayers with their students.

To a student, a teacher standing in a prayer circle with other students and bowing a head during a prayer appears to be participating in the prayer. If a teacher bows his or her head during a Christian student prayer but not during students delivering a prayer for a minority religion, the teacher sends a message of endorsing the Christian prayer. This is why the Constitution and federal courts demand that public school employees refrain from participating in student prayers in any way.

Many Louisiana teachers will see this new law as an excuse to participate in student prayers, which FFRF fears is the intent of lawmakers and, because it is illegal, exposes the school districts to serious legal and financial liability. Remaining quiet and respectful during student prayers has, of course, always been legally permissible. But this bill sends teachers and coaches a message that they can quietly participate, which violates legal precedent. FFRF is committed to vigorously defending the right of public school students to a secular public school system.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit dedicated to upholding the constitutional separation between church and state, and educating the public on matters relating to nontheism. FFRF has more than 33,000 members, including members in Louisiana.

Photo by Oliveromg via Shutterstock

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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