South Carolina Democrat on school prayer bill: Even atheists would be allowed to pray

By Travis Gettys
Wednesday, January 8, 2014 12:30 EDT
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Cheerleader praying (Shutterstock)
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South Carolina lawmakers have offered what they call a compromise to their clearly unconstitutional bill mandating teacher-led prayer in public schools.

Seven Democrats introduced the measure in February with three Republican cosponsors, but they have proposed a watered-down version of the bill to bring it more into line with Supreme Court rulings on school prayer.

The revised bill calls for a moment of silence for prayer or reflection, which largely renders the measure as symbolic and redundant, because the state has mandated moments of silence in public schools since 1995.

“The compromise would be to have the students to pray to whomever they want to,” said state Rep. Wendell Gilliard (D-Charleston). “If they want to do away with teachers conducting the prayer, that would be fine with us. The essential part of the bill, the important part, is putting prayer back in school.”

The compromise does not discriminate against the non-religious, one of its sponsors said, because the bill would also allow them to pray.

“Even the atheists, it gives them the option of praying or not praying without anybody interfering,” said Rep. Joseph Jefferson (D-Berkeley).

One of the bill’s sponsors said the measure was pushed by his constituents, who do not oppose prayer in school.

“I have to vote the way my constituents want me to vote whether I’m Democrat or Republican,” said Rep. Robert Ridgeway III (D-Claredon).

Another co-sponsor said his constituents believe that opening each school day with a prayer may reduce school shootings.

“Some of the folks say they never saw where prayer killed anyone in school but they saw what weapons did,” said Williams, who earned a 67 percent grade from the National Rifle Association. “We’re big on religious principles here. We pray in the General Assembly. We do it every session. What makes the General Assembly different from the school?”

The ACLU’s South Carolina chapter is monitoring the bill’s progress, noting that the state is not as religiously homogenous as many claim.

“The rights of non-believers and minority faith observers must also be defended under our system and our constitution, if our state is to thrive in the 21st century as it did at its founding,” said Victoria Middleton, executive director for ACLU of South Carolina.

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