The Indiana Senate has passed a bill protecting religious expression in public schools.

H.B. 1024 passed 44-5 on Thursday despite opposition from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

“House Bill 1024 only puts prayer back into schools. It does not mandate or force students to participate in it,” said sponsor Rep. John Bartlett, D-Indianapolis. “It is giving Hoosiers the ability to express their faith without fearing discrimination.”

“It also brings clarification to the First Amendment, which allows people to practice their faith. However, it restricts you from forcing your faith on others,” he said.

The bill passed the passed the House 83-12 last month, and went on to clear a Senate Committee 8-2 weeks later.

“Public school students may pray or engage in religious activities or religious expressions before, during, and after the school day in the same manner and to the same extent that students may engage in nonreligious activities or expression,” the legislation reads in part.

It additionally outlines that students are to be permitted to wear religious symbols or slogans on their clothes or jewelry, and must not be discriminated against for including religious themes in their school assignments.

A section of the bill that called for the creation of a limited public forum at school events was removed in a Senate committee earlier this month due to concerns about logistics.

“It requires the schools proactively to develop policies that control certain kinds of public events,” Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, remarked. “And I think the bill itself is going to be somewhat of a challenge for schools and school corporations to implement. But I think it serves a worthy purpose, and I think section five pushes it just a little too hard in that regard.”

Sen. Mark Stoops, D-Bloomington, proposed to add voucher schools to the bill, but the idea was struck down in committee.

“In fairness, any school that receives public funding should fall under this bill,” he opined. “And again I think that if it’s good for public schools and charter schools, it would also be necessary for private schools that received vouchers.”

While some believe that the legislation is unnecessary, Bartlett says that the move will help provide guidance for schools that aren’t sure how to handle expressions of faith on campus.

“A lot of schools are afraid to have prayer in schools or allow their students to pray because they are afraid of a lawsuit,” he stated.

Student Mary Zakrajsek testified before the Senate Education and Career Development Committee that her pro-life poster had been removed from the walls of Carmel High School while other messages were allowed to be posted.

“When I walk down the hallway, and I see rainbow pride flags and Democrat donkeys, I think that’s pretty clear evidence of ideology that is promoted in public school systems. It became clear that it was our [pro-life] club in particular that was being discriminated against,” she testified, according to the Herald Bulletin.

As previously reported, the first textbook used in the American colonies even before the nation’s founding, “The New England Primer,” was largely focused on the Scriptures, and was stated to be popular in public and private schools alike until approximately the early 1900’s. It used mostly the King James Bible as reference, and spoke much about sin, salvation and proper behavior.

“Save me, O God, from evil all this day long, and let me love and serve Thee forever, for the sake of Jesus Christ, Thy Son,” it read.

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