Indiana House Bill 1024 is a new bill that aims to protect the right to prayer for children in the classroom. Prayer would not be enforced, but it would be protected if any student chooses to pray.
Freedom of religious expression is already protected under the Constitution, so students are already legally able to pray in school without repercussion so long as the prayer is not mandated by the school. This makes the bill generally ineffective. There is no point in creating a bill that protects something that was already legal federally.
Rep. John Bartlett, D-Indianapolis, authored the bill and claims it will serve as a reminder to schools that religious expression is protected. While there’s a chance many school officials may not know what the Constitution protects as far as religion in schools, there are other ways to inform them besides creating legislation.
Actively encouraging prayer in the classroom is also likely to lead to discrimination between students. Indiana has a large population of Christians, but there are many non-Christian students that could also take advantage of the opportunity to pray in school if encouraged. In the best-case scenario, it will be helpful for students to be exposed to religions other than their own, but there are always students who will discriminate against others based on their religion and methods of prayer.
The bill is written rather vaguely. Technically, it could imply that educators would be responsible for providing the proper resources for children to pray in school. For example, if a Muslim student wished to pray in school, the school may find itself responsible for providing objects such as prayer rugs. Because this is not directly addressed in the bill, schools are left in a gray area about their exact responsibilities to students’ religious expression.
The bill does suggest that schools offer elective courses surveying world religions, which is a good idea.
Encouraging prayer in school inevitably leads to the expression of many different religions, so offering a course for students to learn and understand religions besides their own is helpful in creating an environment of tolerance.
Many high schools already offer these courses, but the bill could encourage those that do not to establish their own.
Overall, the bill accomplishes very little. It only reinforces things that are already protected under the Constitution.
The encouragement of providing world religion classes is good, but the bill needs to be much more defined to have any real effect on Indiana schools.