GOP lawmakers pushing bill to allow Alabama teachers to join students in prayer

Republican lawmakers are pushing a bill that would allow Alabama teachers to pray with students.

State Rep. Steve McMillan (R-Gulf Shores) and state Sen. Gerald Dial (R-Lineville) will propose a bill early next year that would allow teachers to join in prayers initiated by students.

"A local board of education may not prohibit school personnel from participating in religious activities on school grounds that are initiated by students at reasonable times before or after the instructional day so long as such activities are voluntary for all parties and do not conflict with the responsibilities or assignments of such personnel," the bill says.

The lawmakers say the bill would clarify a right Americans already enjoy, reported, but critics argue that laws allowing school employees to join student religious activities are legally problematic.

Dial attempted to pass a similar law years ago, but a judge in DeKalb County struck it down as unconstitutional, reported.

The new bill would expressly protect student-initiated prayer, expression of religious beliefs, distribution of religious literature, organization of prayer groups, and expression of religious views in homework assignments.

Schools would be allowed under the bill to prohibit religious behaviors that undermine student discipline or harass other students.

The bill also sets up a formal grievance process for students or parents who believe their religious rights have been violated at school.

Dial has repeatedly tried, including during the most recent legislative session, to pass a bill allowing the display of the Ten Commandments in schools and other public buildings.

The Foundation for Moral Law, which was founded by Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, has agreed to defend the state without charge if the legislation is challenged in court.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State challenged a similar law in North Carolina, saying authority figures put “undo pressure” to join in when they take part in religious activities at school.

But Dial said prohibiting teachers from praying with students violates their constitutional rights.

"How are you going to deny a teacher, and tell them they can't pray?" Dial told