- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 8, 2018

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A proposal that could allow Louisiana school employees to pray with students during the class day edged closer to final legislative passage Tuesday, despite concerns it could embroil the state in litigation.

The measure by Sen. Ryan Gatti, a Bossier City Republican, would allow teachers and other workers to pray with students during the workday, if parents of every student in attendance submit a signed request and if the prayer is student-initiated.

The House Education committee voted 10-4 Tuesday to advance the Senate-approved measure to the full House for debate, moving it steps from becoming law.

Gatti said he proposed the bill after being urged by constituents, including students, teachers and coaches. He said he looked at court rulings involved in previous lawsuits to try to craft something that could withstand legal scrutiny.

But opponents of the bill said while they support prayer, the law change likely would provoke a lawsuit, and they feared that lawsuit could undermine other existing so-called “religious freedom” laws on the books.

“Every case that I could read … this bill would have been in violation and would have failed every time,” said Rep. Rick Edmonds, a Baton Rouge Republican and pastor.

Gatti said they’re misunderstanding how his proposal would work, noting it would require unanimous support from students and their parents for prayer during the school day. He said teachers and coaches shouldn’t be worried about being fired for violating a school handbook if everyone agrees to the prayer.

“We’re talking about kids that all go to church together. They just happen to be in a public school,” Gatti said.

Current Louisiana law already allows school employees to attend and participate in student-led prayer events if they occur before or after their work day.

Southern University Law School professor Michelle Ghetti said Louisiana has some of the strongest pro-prayer-in-school laws on the books, but she said Gatti’s proposal would prompt a lawsuit that threatens a review of existing laws.

Edmonds called it a “heartbreaking issue for me personally.” But he said: “I really believe this brings more damage than good.”


Senate Bill 512: www.legis.la.gov

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