CITIZEN VOICES® Lord’s Prayer in NH schools?
Feb 08, 2019
A New Hampshire law from 1975 states that school districts may authorize the recitation of the traditional Lord’s Prayer in public elementary schools. The law makes clear that saying the prayer would be voluntary for students. Students would be informed by their teacher that the prayer was said by “our pilgrim fathers” and that the exercise would not be intended to influence the students’ personal religious beliefs.
A 2019 bill to remove this law from the books was recently given a thumbs down by a House committee.
Who gets to decide?
Some lawmakers have pointed out that the current law uses the word “shall” to describe how teachers should conduct the prayer if their school district authorizes it, calling into question whether teachers would be allowed to forgo the prayer in such a situation.
No school district in the state currently authorizes schools to say the Lord’s Prayer under this law. Still, the law’s existence has fueled an ideological debate, with some favoring the right of local school districts to decide on the issue and others feeling the law’s very existence violates the separation of church and state.
Pros and cons
Those who want to repeal this law argue it is unconstitutional, citing a New Hampshire Supreme Court advisory opinion to that effect. They say prayer has no place in public education and that religious formation – or lack thereof – should be left up to parents.
Those who think the law should remain as it is have argued that the 2019 repeal bill is motivated by anti-religious sentiment. They point out that the current law makes it clear that the prayer would be meant to honor New England’s early European settlers, not to indoctrinate students.