The “Student Religious Liberties Act” legislation sponsored by State Rep. Mack Butler (R-Rainbow City) became law on May 7 as Gov. Robert Bentley affixed his signature to the measure in a signing ceremony that coincided with the National Day of Payer.
The bill was part of the House Republican Caucus’s “Alabama First” legislative agenda that GOP lawmakers announced at the start of the 2015 regular session.
“A series of federal court decisions over the last 50 years has continued to whittle away the rights to prayer and religious expression in schools,” Butler said. “But with the enactment of this legislation, the right to student-led prayer and religious expressions while on campus grounds is secured and protected in Alabama’s public schools.
“I’d like to personally thank Governor Bentley for his support of this legislation and his recognition of the importance of student-led prayer.”
Butler, who previously served on the Etowah County School Board, noted that in 2000, then-Attorney General Bill Pryor released a memorandum that outlined guidelines for religious expression in schools and contained a list of generally permissible activities within schools and school-related events that had been court-tested.
Because of the threat of lawsuits from anti-religious and atheist groups, however, many school systems chose to halt religious expressions of any kind from taking place.
The provisions of the Student Religious Liberty Act require school systems to adopt and implement a policy regarding voluntary student expression of religious viewpoints.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that student-led religious activities are permitted in our schools, and this law simply ensures that students across Alabama are able to express their religious beliefs as allowed by the U.S. Constitution,” Butler said.
“In addition, principals, counselors, classroom teachers, and others will now have a clear roadmap that guides them to what is allowable when students wish to profess their beliefs on school grounds.”