Bill Would Allow Prayer at Public Schools Assemblies

Rep. John Bennett

A bill designed to allow public school students to express religious viewpoints and organize prayer groups has passed the House despite concerns the measure could actually lead to more lawsuits against schools.

The House voted 79-13 for the Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act by Sallisaw Republican Rep. John Bennett, who says the bill is modeled after a Texas law.

"I think our constitutional right to free speech trumps any tradition in our schools of separating church and state," Bennett said in a release after the bill cleared committee earlier this session. "It may be appropriate to limit what a school official can say about religion, but I think students should be able to talk about their faith outside of the classroom at school assemblies.

The bill directs school boards to adopt policies for student speakers at all school events that protects "the voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint by a student." The legislation would give student volunteers organizing the assembly the authority to determine the content of a message and who will deliver it.

"The Declaration of Independence refers to God four times. In some public schools, children can hardly refer to God one time without being sent to the principal's office," Bennett said . "Religious expression is being treated as second-class speech in many schools. The Constitution does not turn schools into anti-religion zones, nor teachers into prayer police, nor students who express their faith into enemies of the state. "

The head of the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union says the proposed law is nothing more than a "political stunt" and urged its defeat in the Senate.

The Associated Press Contributed to this story.