The Kentucky House passed a bill Thursday that would establish a state-recognized “Day of Prayer” on the last Wednesday in September every year.
The bill, sponsored by Republican representative Regina Huff and four other Republicans, received overwhelming support by House members, passing 83-5. It will now move on to the Kentucky Senate.
Huff said that the bill was inspired by students in her district, who she said “want to know that we are all united in this effort and that, on that particular day each year, we will be united with them.” She maintained that the effort would always be student-initiated at individual schools and would take place before the start of the regular school day. If the bill passes, however, the Kentucky governor will be required to officially announce the event every year.
“Given all that our students are facing…. Our students need to know that we are standing with them,” Huff continued. “We all need to embrace this and be united in an effort of support in each individual’s manner of prayer for our schools, students and administrators.”
Huff’s oblique reference to a rash of deadly school shootings hit close to home for many Kentuckians. In late January of this year, two Kentucky teenagers were fatally shot and dozens more were wounded after a classmate opened fire at Marshall County High School. The incident is just one of at least 16 school shootings this year, the most recent of which occurred today at Great Mills High School in Maryland.
Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin responded to the Marshall County High School tragedy by calling school shootings a “cultural problem” and emphasizing the importance of prayers asking God to intervene on behalf “of his people.”
“We can’t celebrate death in video games, celebrate death in TV shows, celebrate death in movies, celebrate death in musical lyrics and remove any sense of morality and sense of higher authority and then expect that things like this are not going to happen,” Bevin told the Associated Press in January.
Bevin, a Republican who has served as Kentucky’s governor since 2014, has recognized the last Wednesday in September as a day of prayer for students for the last two years.
ACLU Kentucky spokeswoman Amber Duke said Friday that, if the bill is signed into law, officials must make it clear to public schools that they cannot legally endorse specific religious practices or beliefs.
“The content of the bill doesn’t mandate prayer, but as we’ve seen time and time again in the Commonwealth when it comes to religion and schools, what is intended by the General Assembly can be lost in translation when it reaches the local school level,” Duke said.
She added that she found there to be little need for such a law when Supreme Court rulings like Tinker v. Des Moines uphold the right to non-coerced, individual student expression—including prayer—in schools, providing it does not disrupt the educational process.
“There are a number of special days for remembrance and reflection in our Commonwealth that are recognized without being official[ly] enshrined in our KRS,” Duke added.
There is already an official National Day of Prayer, which takes place the first Thursday in May, established by the Second Continental Congress and upheld by a 1952 bill requiring each sitting president to declare the day annually.
--by Caroline Matas
Image Source: Prayer. Photo by Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, Flickr Creative Commons.