'Moment of silence' bill in Nebraska Legislature spurs debate on prayer in schools

2 months ago Fremont Tribune

A public hearing in the Nebraska Legislature saw opposing testimony that focused heavily on resisting calls to bring prayer into the classroom, though one lawmaker claimed the bill wouldn't do that in the first place.

The Education Committee held a public hearing Monday afternoon on three bills, the last of which, prompted the prayer debate. Introduced by state Sen. Tom Briese of Albion, the bill (LB141) would require the State Department of Education to issue guidance to schools that choose to schedule a "moment of silence" during the school day.

Briese clarified during the hearing that the moment of silence did not equate to a moment for prayer, saying he took a "secular approach" when drafting the legislation. He also said he did not want the bill to mandate all schools add a moment of silence to their daily schedules. 

"These waters, they do have to be navigated carefully," Briese said. 

Tom Briese/MUG

Briese said he envisioned schools delegating a minute or two at the start of the school day for reflection or meditation. He said a moment of silence can set the mood for the rest of the day, promote self-control and reduce bullying. 

There isn't anything in Nebraska law stopping schools from adding a moment of silence currently. However, because there isn't state guidance on it, Briese said he believed local public schools might believe they aren't allowed to. 

Despite Briese's claims, multiple testifiers argued the bill is meant to be interpreted as a way to enforce prayer in schools. Including written testimony, two people testified in support of the bill, two were neutral and 11 people were opposed. 

Rachele Walter, president of the Lincoln Atheists, said moments of silence that are not tied to a specific event are inherently "a religious observance," and argued that students are already free to pray at all points of the school day. 

"Students are there to learn, they are not there to pray," Walter said. 

Walter and other testifiers argued that rather than discourage bullying, the bill would actually encourage bullying against students who were not religious or followed an alternative religion outside Christianity. 

Judy King, who also opposed bill (LB141), said she didn't trust the "religious right" in the Legislature to not use the legislation as an opportunity to impose religion into the classroom. 

LB141 was introduced at a time when Republicans across the country have been calling to bring prayer back into schools for at least a year. One of these Republicans is Gov. Jim Pillen, who during his gubernatorial campaign posted a Tweet calling on Nebraska to "put God back into our schools."

Though Briese described himself as a "religious prayerful guy," he said he did not support requiring schools to instill prayer in schools, and claimed his bill was not related to Pillen's campaign statement. He said such a mandate would conflict with the U.S. Constitution and would put schools into "treacherous waters."

Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston, a member of the Education Committee, pushed back against some of the opposition claiming LB141 promotes prayer in schools, arguing that prayer isn't in the bill's language. She argued that teachers could use the moment of silence as a helpful tool to calm down their students. 

Carina McCormick, an opponent who Albrecht was directing her comments toward, pointed out that it's important to note the difference between a timeout and a moment of silence. 

Briese responded to the criticism by saying it only reinforced the need for guidance from the State Department of Education. With a "well-designed template," Briese said schools can implement a moment of silence that avoids the concerns mentioned in the hearing. 

Meet the Nebraska state senators making laws in 2023

Raymond Aguilar/2023 collection Joni Albrecht/2023 collection John Arch/2023 collection Christy Armendariz//2023 collection Beau Ballard/2023 collection Carol Blood/2023 collection Eliot Bostar/2023 collection Bruce Bostelman/2023 collection Tom Brandt/2023 collection Tom Brewer/2023 collection Tom Briese/2023 collection John Cavanaugh/2023 collection Machaela Cavanaugh/2023 collection Robert Clements/2023 collection Danielle Conrad/2023 collection Jen Day/2023 collection Wendy DeBoer/2023 collection Barry DeKay/2023 collection Myron Dorn/2023 collection Robert Dover/2023 collection George Dungan/2023 collection Steve Erdman/2023 collection John Fredrickson/2023 collection Suzanne Geist/2023 collection Steve Halloran/2023 collection Ben Hansen/2023 collection Brian Hardin/2023 collection Rick Holdcroft/2023 collection Jana Hughes/2023 collection Megan Hunt/2023 collection Teresa Ibach/2023 collection Mike Jacobson/2023 collection Kathleen Kauth/2023 collection Lou Ann Linehan/2023 collection Loren Lippincott/2023 collection John Lowe/2023 collection Mike McDonnell/2023 collection Terrell McKinney/2023 collection Mike Moser/2023 collection Dave Murman/2023 collection Jane Raybould/2023 collection Merv Riepe/2023 collection Rita Sanders/2023 collection Julie Slama/2023 collection Tony Vargas/2023 collection R. Brad von Gillern/2023 collection Lynne Walz/2023 collection Justin Wayne/2023 collection Anna Wishart/2023 collection











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