Visit almost any school in America and you’ll find students sharing their faith, reading their scriptures, saying grace before lunch and, in high schools, meeting in religious clubs.
But in a growing number of state legislatures around the country, lawmakers want more.
Barred by the U.S. Supreme Court from turning the clock back to the days of state-sponsored prayers and devotional Bible reading, state legislatures are discovering creative new ways to get more religion through the schoolhouse door.
Last week, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a law encouraging local school boards to create a forum at school-sponsored events for students to offer inspirational messages. Although the state can’t require students to give a prayer, critics of the legislation say “inspirational message” is a euphemism for prayer and student-government leaders charged with deciding who speaks will inevitably favor the majority faith.
Texas passed the first of what opponents dub “prayer bills” in 2006. Other state legislatures, including Oklahoma and Tennessee, are currently debating similar legislation.
Creating a “free speech” forum at school events may indeed be constitutional, but lower courts remain divided on where to draw the line on student speech before a captive audience.
Georgia, Texas, Tennessee and South Carolina already have “Bible bills” — and other Bible Belt states are likely to follow suit.
A proliferation of Bible courses in public schools, taught by unqualified teachers using the Bible as a history textbook, will be a boon for lawyers — but a legal quagmire for school officials.
Critics of these bills charge that this nationwide effort to change science education is another attempt by the Christian Right to undermine teaching the well-established theory of evolution — and a back-door way to promote religious views as science in public schools. Supporters counter that opening the science curriculum to other views promotes critical thinking.
Sharia law is quickly becoming a hot-button topic on the campaign trial, as conservatives debate the role of Islam in the United States and the conservative movement. The exact mechanics of how sharia, or Islamic jurisprudence, is threatening the United States are unclear, but some conservatives point to cases in New Jersey and Florida that they say underscores the need for a blanket ban on using foreign law in the United States.
The issue resonates with many GOP primary voters and legislators in the early primary state of South Carolina is considering a ban on sharia law that might force some more 2012 contenders engage on the issue. Here is how the various 2012 candidates have positioned themselves on the issue so far.
A South Carolina proposal would prevent the state’s courts from enforcing foreign law, including Islamic Sharia law, though Muslim advocates say it could essentially ban religion from mundane matters such as weddings and even burials.
The bill makes no reference to a specific religion or country, though its sponsors acknowledge they worry about the ultraconservative tenets of Sharia law, or Islamic religious law. At least 13 states have introduced similar measures this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Muslim advocates, however, fear the proposal could essentially ban mundane religious practices in legal documents like wills, which may distribute property based on Islamic traditions.
Five Muslim soldiers detained since December were released when the investigation showed there had been no plot to poison food at the Army base in Columbia, SC. The five soldiers were serving within the transactor training program. Four of them have been now discharged from Army due to petty crimes. The investigation started following allegation of verbal threats regarding the base’s supply of food. According to the investigation results, no credible information was found to support that there has been any plot.