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S.C. governor signs bill allowing student-led prayer

By The Associated Press

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 policies permitting student-led messages, including prayers or religious messages, at school-sponsored events like graduation and sporting events.

Any such policy would require that 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 June 24.

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."

Some House members expressed concern about giving students an unfettered two-minute forum when school officials had no idea what would be said. But Campsen said that is a key requirement to comply with the First Amendment and keep the state out of the message.

The bill passed the Senate in the waning days of the legislative session.

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


ACLU seeks to force district to ban student-led graduation prayers

Clark County, Nev., school board voted 3-2 last month to uphold policy allowing invocations, benedictions at graduations under certain conditions. 03.10.03

Graduation 2002: one last lesson in freedom
By Ken Paulson First Amendment provides all the guidance we need for these ceremonies: Public schools must respect students' rights to freedom of speech, religion. 06.02.02

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