Law could allow prayer in school

Governor signs student-led message act

Posted: Friday, June 28, 2002

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Students in South Carolina public schools may be able to lead their classmates in prayer under a law signed this week by Gov. Jim Hodges.

The Student-Led Message Act allows school boards to adopt a policy permitting student-led messages, including prayers or religious messages, at school-sponsored events like graduation and sporting events.

Any such policy would require the speaker be selected by an objective standard, such as class rank. School officials would not be able to review the messages beforehand.

''By creating an opportunity for nonreligious expression in the public schools, we create the opportunity for religious expression as well,'' said Rep. Chip Campsen, who sponsored the bill signed Monday.

Campsen, a Republican, said he modeled the bill after recent U.S. Supreme Court and appellate decisions to work within constitutional boundaries.

Each of the state's 86 school boards would need to vote separately to adopt the policy in the individual district.

Paul Krohne, executive director of the South Carolina School Boards Association, said school officials may be wary of federal constitutional issues.

''I think we're going to see local school boards approaching this very cautiously,'' Krohne said. ''I think they'll view it in terms of what legal challenges will follow. They don't want to expend the money of local property taxpayers on a constitutional experiment.''

The American Civil Liberties Union, which traditionally challenges any religious messages in schools, did not immediately return phone calls Wednesday.

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