A subcommittee 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.
“We are pleased that the Senate sub-committee voted against this bill, and we are hoping this will be the end of it,” said Kent Willis, the executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, which had opposed the measure. “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.”
Del. 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.
Two other bills that would have eroded religious liberties in Virginia also failed today. Del. Dickie Bell’s HB 1409, which appears to authorize unconstitutional sectarian prayers at government events, was left in the House Courts of Justice Committee. Del. 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.
Edited by Chris Graham. Chris can be reached at [email protected].