Bill Seeks to Protect Religious Views, Voluntary Prayer in Public Schools

A bill filed in the Georgia legislature seeks to prohibit discrimination of public school students and teachers on the basis of religious viewpoints or expression.

House Bill 53 filed by State Representative Casey Karpenter, a Dalton Republican, would impose restrictions on local school systems in terms of how students are treated when expression religious viewpoints and would bring code section in line to explicitly protect religious expression the way other voluntary expression is protected.

The bill is co-sponsored by fellow Republican state representatives Jason Ridley, Micah Gravley, Martin Momtahan, Wes Cantrell, and Kevin Tanner.

HB 53 creates a new code section – OCGA 20-2-1031 – and would do the following:

  • Permits student to discuss religious beliefs in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments “free of discrimination based on the religious content.”
  • Prohibits penalty OR reward for religious content in work and requires ‘academic standard’ be used as the caliber
  • Stipulates that the religious expression must be permitted the same way non-religious expression would be permitted on other topics in schools
  • Provides that students may ‘pray or engage in religious activities’ during the school day
    • Further permits prayer groups, religious clubs, ‘see you at the pole’ gatherings, and other activities before, during, or after school under the same provisions that non-religious activities take place
    • Requires the organizations/gatherings have same access to facilities without discrimination based on religion
    • Must be permitted to advertise such activities the same way non-religious groups advertise activities
    • Schools are permitted to ‘disclaim’ the sponsorship or association with the religious activities
  • Permits that students in public schools must be allowed to wear clothing and jewelry that displays religious symbols

Under the new law, schools would be required to adopt policies to avoid being directly associated with student views. HB 53 permits the schools to adopt a policy to establish a “limited public forum” which applies to everyone. The policies, as dictated by the law, must:

  • Not discriminate against a student’s voluntary expression,
  • Offer ‘neutral criteria’ for selecting student speaks at school events/graduation ceremonies
  • Ensure that a student speaker does not engage in obscene, vulgar, offensively lewd, or indecent speech
  • State that a student’s speech does not reflect the endorsement, sponsorship, position, or expression of the local school system

A sample policy is provided in the bill and requires that local school systems adopt ‘similar’ policies. (See pages 4-8 in this PDF)

The bill also provides protections for teachers and faculty to express their religious views while on contract and permits them to:

  • Share religious information with faculty and colleagues
  • Discuss religious views in the classroom in a ‘neutral manner’
  • Serve as a sponsor of student-organized religious events and gatherings
  • Permit and be present for student-initiated, student-led religious expression;
  • Participate in student-led prayer
  • Wear religious clothing, symbols, or jewelry that comply with dress code
  • Decorate their desk and other personal space in their office or classroom with religious items

The bill is specific in that it prohibits the ‘requiring’ of any student or teacher to do anything related to religion.

The bill has been assigned to the House Education Committee.

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George Chidi
George Chidi

On it’s face … meh. I’ve seen worse. The test, of course, is if a Satanist or atheist could still face official or de facto discrimination for doing what Christians intend these rules to accomplish for other Christians.


Or…when a Muslim group wants to use these protections.


“Or…when a Muslim group wants to use these protections.” – Oh, they’ve already laid out those exceptions. For instance, “Wear religious clothing, symbols, or jewelry that comply with dress code.” I can already hear “Sorry, hun, your burka doesn’t comply with dress code.”


To memory, Constitutional interpretations of the 1st Amendment as applied to public spaces have created a choice between an “all in” approach or an “all out” approach. Essentially, either everyone gets to express themselves freely, or no one does. So, it’s on point to say that the rubber will meet the road when an unknown or uncommon but self-avowed religious belief runs counter to common cultural standards. I noticed last year that atheist groups and modern-day pagan/humanist groups started beefing up legal efforts to ensure inclusion where expression was allowed. I remembered coming across the below story a while back,… Read more »


Permits student to discuss religious beliefs in homework

I’m thinking the test isn’t going to be a Muslim student, it’s going to be some kid protesting an F on his biology exam because he believes the world is 2000 years old.


Based on the above, the work would be judged by “academic standard”…
So….if you could use logic and inquiry and research to assert that the world is not so old…? But the relation between academic and scientific standards could vary by district…

Dave Bearse
Dave Bearse

When the 2% scientific opinion that disagree with climate changes should be accorded the same standing and curriculum inclusion as the 98% you’re talking a low bar anyway.

Will Durant
Will Durant

That’s 6,000 years you Neanderthal. Oh, wait…

Will Durant
Will Durant

What happens when a Muslim’s midday prayer time conflicts with a class or an important exam? The devout have a pretty rigid frame of time for the time and duration of their prayers. And that is just one example off the top of my head. If you start accommodating religion you have to treat them all equally. This will open a Pandora’s box that should remain closed. The reason we have a Bill of Rights is to protect the rights of the individual and minorities and I don’t think it is a function of a government school to be subjecting… Read more »

Dave Bearse
Dave Bearse

Deleted, wrong thread.