House Bill 35 (HB35), sponsored by State Rep. Tracy Estes (R-Winfield), seeks to prevent state entities from interfering with student-led prayer events at schools and allows students to use school property for prayers.
According to Estes, the bill does not stem from a particular event in which prayer was hindered. Instead, he wants to preemptively protect a practice already commonplace across the state.
"Prayer at a football game is just kind of a standard practice," Estes told 1819 News. "You know how it is in a small town; most everyone wants to participate; I'm not saying that everyone does. It's just not a controversial issue in my district."
"As a Christian. I am not attempting to press my beliefs on anybody else," he added. "[The bill] is not really making major changes that I can think of to what is pretty much already allowed, to the extent that [prayer] has to be student-led and you can't offer an altar call or anything like that like you're at a church."
The bill allows students to use school property, such as a microphone or public address system, to communicate the prayer.
The bill also prohibits a local board of education, athletic or other association operating within or outside the boundaries of Alabama from impeding or deterring a student-initiated, student-led, voluntary prayer.
Current law allows non-sectarian, non-proselytizing student-initiated and student-led voluntary prayer, invocations and benedictions during compulsory and non-compulsory school-related assemblies, sporting events, graduation or commencement ceremonies, and other school-related student events.
HB35 prevents governmental and non-governmental entities from prohibiting such events and allows students to use public school property for those purposes.
"My fear was, the state of Alabama might be coerced at some point to try to stop [student-led prayer,] Estes said. "Not saying they would, but to me, this is preventative medicine is all it is. I also, even though I have friends that work at the high school athletic association, I did not ever want them to come up with the idea of saying, 'if you're going to participate in our extracurricular activities through sports and whatnot, then you have to be a member in good standing. And, if you allow such practice on your campus, you can't do that and be a member."
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