Forget loaves and fishes — the House Education Committee in Alabama’s state legislature pushed through a school prayer bill last week on a voice vote, even though more committee members voted against it than for it. The bill would require teachers to spend up to 15 minutes during the first class of each school day reading prayers said before the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives — so you see, it wouldn’t actually be an unconstitutional government-sponsored prayer, it’s civics. We totally believe that! Where is your ACLU now, atheists?
The Montgomery Advertiser reports that only two members of the committee actually voted for the bill in a voice vote; three voted against it, and three others did not vote at all:
Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin, R-Indian Springs, chairwoman of the committee, said she heard more votes in favor of the bill.
“It’s what I heard as chairman,” she said.
Of course, since she was one of the two votes for the bill, maybe her voice sounded a bit louder. Or maybe she heard the voice of God’s children telling her they just want to pray — or at least read prayers said in Congress — in school. (And isn’t “Mary Sue McClurkin” just the most precious name you’ve ever heard?) But that’s fine, because it was all according to the rules:
House Clerk Jeff Woodard said the chairman of each committee has the discretion to decide the outcome of a voice vote. Committee members can request roll call votes if there’s a dispute, but none of the Education Policy committee members did.
In addition, the committee also sent to the House a measure that would “allow students to initiate prayer in school and express their religious views in their schoolwork” — which court decisions have already said are protected by the First Amendment. The bill’s sponsor, Mack Butler, said that it was absolutely necessary to spell that out in state law:
Butler, who served on a school board for 10 years, said the purpose of the bill is to communicate to school administrators and teachers what’s legal. He said he knows teachers who are scared to death because they don’t know where to draw the line.
“Every bit of this bill is already legal,” Butler said. “It’s just that no one knows it’s legal.”
Democratic education committee member Elaine Beech said that she didn’t see the point of legalizing something that is already legal; the Advertiser did not report whether she followed that observation with an exasperated “but whatever floats your boat.” At a previous hearing on the bill, state education officials said that the bill’s provision requiring schools to develop policies to reinforce the right to initiate prayer and express belief in schoolwork could actually lead to lawsuits, since schools might end up writing policies that didn’t comply with court rulings. But that seems like a small matter, since the bill’s primary purpose, showing that its sponsor is bravely protecting Christianity from secular assault, would have been met.
No telling whether there are enough votes to pass the Congressional prayer bill, which the Alabama chapter of the ACLU said is clearly unconstitutional, but who are we kidding — it’s Alabama. We do have to admit that we’re a little impressed by the bill’s “we’re not praying, we’re learning about Congress” camouflage, which has a nice “I’m not touching you” feel to it. And we’re certain that the bill’s sponsors will feel they’re doing some holy work when the Lege has to pay to defend against the inevitable lawsuits, which they’ll lose. But for another chance to point at how they’ve protected Baby Jebus, that’s a good investment.
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