INDIANAPOLIS -- A Republican state senator is pushing for Indiana's public school students to start the school day by reciting the Lord's Prayer amid what he calls an "attack" on religion in the schools.
Senate education committee chairman Dennis Kruse of Auburn filed legislation this week that would allow school districts to require the prayer to be recited. It would grant broad exemptions for students who do not want to participate.
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"My intention in filing this legislation was to foster a conversation about religious liberty in our state and our country," Kruse said in a statement Friday. "I wanted to address the growing concern shared by many of my fellow Hoosiers that religious liberty is under attack and religious values are being pushed out of the public sphere."
Kruse did not respond to an interview request Friday to elaborate on his statement.
The measure might have little chance of winning approval since the Senate's leader has assigned it to the rules committee, which rarely advances bills. But it's part of a broader push by Kruse and other lawmakers to put religion in Indiana's public schools. State Sen. Jim Tomes, a Wadesville Republican, introduced a similar measure last year, but it failed to win any support.
Kruse sponsored a bill last year seeking to allow schools to teach creationism, the belief that life was created as described in the Bible. This year, he's seeking to allow teachers to question scientific principles like evolution.
A spokeswoman for Gov.-elect Mike Pence, a longtime supporter of evangelical Republicans, did not respond to a request asking where Pence stands on the prayer bill.
Efforts to promote the Lord's Prayer in public schools are far and few between, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. A South Carolina measure was approved in 2008 allowing the posting of the prayer in public buildings along with other historical documents like the Magna Carta. The 2011 "Kentucky School Patriot Act" would have allowed schools to require the recitation of the prayer during the same period as the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, but that proposal failed.
The bill's supporters may say the measure is about promoting religious freedom and rebuffing an attack on their beliefs, but it's actually part of a larger movement to impose their beliefs on children, said Andrew Seidel, staff attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
"The idea that religious liberty is under attack is just a complete fabrication," Seidel said.
He points out that it has long been settled in U.S. courts that students can pray on their own, however they like, but that forcing one religion's prayer on every student is a clear violation of the First Amendment. If the measure ever passed, it would waste tax money on expensive and futile legal battles, he said.
"I think it's incredibly irresponsible of the senator who is pushing this," Seidel said.