Prayer in Schools: A Student’s Right (HB 1306)

Testimony submitted to House Education Committee by Shannon McGinley, Executive Director of Cornerstone Action on Thursday, January 29, 2020

I am Shannon McGinley, volunteer executive director for Cornerstone Action. Cornerstone is dedicated to a New Hampshire where God is honored, religious freedom flourishes, families thrive, and life is cherished.

Cornerstone Action takes a cautious position on HB 1306. The language of the bill is deceptively simple, but it raises two concerns.  

HB 1306 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 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 1306 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 1306 understand that their bill would in no way interfere with student-led prayer. An amendment to HB 1306 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 1306.  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.