Two other bills intended to erode religious liberty also fail today.Richmond, VA—A sub-committee of the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee voted today against approval of a resolution to amend the Virginia Constitution in a manner that could encourage unconstitutional prayers in public schools. The vote was 4-3.
The bill, HJ 593, had previously passed the House by a vote of 66-33-1.
Delegate Charles W. Carrico’s resolution does not contain explicitly unconstitutional language, but the delegate has stated on several occasions that he intends for the amendment to permit religious practices in public schools that the U.S. Supreme Court prohibits.
On the House floor and at committee meetings, Carrico has repeatedly cited a 2009 incident at Gate City High School in which students were told they could not offer prayers over the public address system at football games. In that case, Gate City school officials voluntarily agreed to discontinue the prayers after the ACLU of Virginia made them aware of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, a 2000 decision striking down prayers over public address systems at high school football games. Carrico said his amendment would allow such prayers.
HJ 593 would add the following to the Virginia Constitution:
To secure further the people’s right to acknowledge God according to the dictates of conscience, neither the Commonwealth nor its political subdivisions shall establish any official religion, but the people’s right to pray and to recognize their religious beliefs, heritage, and traditions on public property, including public schools, shall not be infringed; however, the Commonwealth and its political subdivisions, including public school divisions, shall not compose school prayers, nor require any person to join in prayer or other religious activity.“We are pleased that the Senate sub-committee voted against this bill, and we are hoping this will be the end of it,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “If teachers and students chose to interpret this bill in the way the patron intended, they could use it as a rationale for religious activities in public schools that the Supreme Court has expressly ruled unconstitutional.”
Meanwhile two other bills that would have eroded religious liberties in Virginia also failed today. Delegate Richard P. Bell’s HB 1409, which appears to authorize unconstitutional sectarian prayers at government events, was left in the House Courts of Justice Committee. Delegate Thomas A. Greason’s HJ 614, which would have amended the state constitution to allow state subsidies for individuals studying to be military chaplains, failed in a subcommittee of the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee. Greason’s bill had easily passed the House.
Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, 804-644-8022