Schools, Prayer, & Lawmakers: Clarity Needed (HB 289)

Classroom

Cornerstone Action takes a cautious position on HB 289, relative to the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in elementary schools. The language of the bill is deceptively simple. It raises two concerns, however, which legislators should consider during the hearing on HB 289 (Thursday, 1/17/19, 2:30 p.m., House Education Committee).

HB 289 would repeal a New Hampshire law permitting school districts to authorize the recitation of the Lord’s prayer in public elementary schools, authorization which to Cornerstone’s knowledge is not being exercised in any New Hampshire school district at this time. Repeal of the law would not in itself be a First Amendment issue.

It would, however, represent a clear rejection of the law’s framework within which which mere recitation of the Lord’s Prayer is permitted within historical context for the purpose of teaching students about what the law calls “our great freedoms.” Assume that HB 289 passes. Would a school district still be permitted to provide students with historically accurate information about the role of prayer in the context of the establishment of the United States? Would the text of the Lord’s Prayer, even in written form, be permitted as a classroom resource? We invite clarification on that point. Ruling out recitation of the Lord’s Prayer is one thing. Airbrushing it out of American history is another.

We believe it is imperative that the sponsors of HB 289 understand that their bill would in no way interfere with student-led prayer. An amendment to HB 289 stating as much would be a good idea. Such an amendment could provide reassurance that animus toward religion is not the driving force behind HB 289.  Cornerstone would vigorously oppose any bill attempting to restrict the right of a student to pray in school, which is a civil right protected by the First Amendment.
This bill is simple on the surface, but it raises more concerns than it addresses. We cannot support it.
Email address for House Education Committee is HouseEducationCommittee@leg.state.nh.us.
For more information, email Shannon McGinley, Cornerstone Action executive director, at cornerstone@nhcornerstone.org.