Public forums portion of school prayer bill removed

By Andi TenBarge
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS — A bill aiming to protect students’ religious freedom in schools continues to move forward without one of its major components.

House Bill 1024 allows students to express their religious beliefs in homework, artwork, clothing without fear of discrimination from their peers, teachers or administrators. The bill’s author, Rep. John Bartlett, D-Indianapolis, said the state superintendent of public instruction and attorney general would develop a policy for schools to follow to protect students’ religious liberties.

Sen. Mark Stoops, D-Bloomington, proposed two amendments Wednesday that would have required students to take a world religions course and mandate that private schools that receive public funds through voucher programs abide by bill’s requirements. Both amendments failed during the committee hearing. Photo by Andi TenBarge, TheStatehouseFile.com

The committee passed an amendment Wednesday that strips out a section of the bill concerning “limited public forums” where students could speak publicly about their religion. Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said he thought this section was “out of sync” with the rest of the bill because it requires schools to proactively develop policies concerning such forums.

“I think the bill itself is going to be somewhat of a challenge for schools and school corporations to implement,” said Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, who proposed the amendment. “But, I think it serves a worthy purpose and I think [that section] pushes a little too hard in that regard.”

Sen. Mark Stoops, D-Bloomington, also brought forward two amendments that both failed to make their way into the bill. The first would require private schools that receive vouchers to be subject to follow the bill’s requirements.

“I don’t understand the residence to make sure that any school that receives public funds should abide by the same law,” Stoops said. “I do think that this pushes the envelope towards the separation of church and state.”

The bill would also allow schools to offer an elective world religion course in the high school curriculum. It’s a course Stoops said needs to be mandatory for schools to offer.

“We have a lot of religions, a lot of very diverse populations in the state of Indiana,” Stoops said. “I’m more concerned about the minority religions and having their ability to have voices heard.”

Bartlett said during a previous meeting that he was open to Stoops’s ideas, but he said he would prefer to see how the bill plays out throughout the next couple years before making those changes.

The Senate Education and Career Development Committee passed the bill 8-2. It now heads to the Senate floor.

Andi TenBarge is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news site powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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