Alabama is poised to require a period of "quiet reflection" in schools, a response to a judge's ruling that struck down the state's school prayer law last year.
The law had allowed for voluntary prayer initiated by students during school-related events.Legislation sent to Gov. Fob James would require teachers to "conduct a brief period of quiet reflection for not more than 60 seconds with the participation of every pupil in the classroom."
The reflection, the bill says, is not intended to be "a religious service or exercise" but rather "an opportunity for a moment of silent reflection on the anticipated activities of the day."
The House approved the bill Jan. 20 on a vote of 69-18 and the Senate approved it 33-0 on Thursday. James has said he will sign it, and the legislative would take effect immediately.
"If our schools are allowed by the federal courts to let this legislation take effect, it's going to have a calming effect on the school prayer issue," said Sen. Hinton Mitchem, a Democrat and sponsor of the bill.
In March 1997, U.S. District Judge Ira DeMent ruled the state's 1993 school prayer law unconstitutionally endorsed religion, coerced schoolchildren to participate in religious activity and created "an excessive entanglement between religion and the state."
The judge also said the law restricted the private speech and religion rights of students by allowing only "non-sectarian, non-proselytizing" prayers and not those of specific faiths.
Pamela Sumners, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who challenged the law, said federal courts have upheld periods of quiet reflection as long as a legislature didn't specify prayer or set out to promote religion.
But Alabama's legislation goes further than laws in other states by specifying that it "shall not prevent student-initiated voluntary school prayer at school or school-related events which are non-sectarian and non-proselytizing in nature."
Sumners said identical language was struck down by DeMent last year.