CONCORD, N.H. — A Democratic member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives has filed a bill that would repeal a 40-year-old state law that allows for the recitation of The Lord’s Prayer in public elementary schools.
Rep. Amanda Bouldin, who represents the Manchester area, recently filed House Bill 289, with eight co-sponsors—all Democratic.
It repeals the 1975 statute Section 194:15-a, which is stated to be dormant in that no schools in the state are currently known to engage in the practice of reciting The Lord’s Prayer in class.
“As an affirmation of the freedom of religion in this country, a school district may authorize the recitation of the traditional Lord’s prayer in public elementary schools. Pupil participation in the recitation of the prayer shall be voluntary. Pupils shall be reminded that this Lord’s prayer is the prayer our pilgrim fathers recited when they came to this country in their search for freedom,” the law reads.
“Pupils shall be informed that these exercises are not meant to influence an individual’s personal religious beliefs in any manner. The exercises shall be conducted so that pupils shall learn of our great freedoms, which freedoms include the freedom of religion and are symbolized by the recitation of the Lord’s prayer,” it states.
However, due to an advisory opinion some time ago from the New Hampshire Supreme Court—at the request of legislators—that deemed the statute to be unconstitutional, Bouldin believes that the law needs to go. She told local television station WMUR that the Lord’s Prayer statute “continues to live in our RSAs today sort of as a hidden virus.”
“Our own Supreme Court has declared it [unconstitutional] and no teacher would want to take advantage of this opportunity because they would be worried about the liability and constitutionality of teaching prayer in public schools,” she also told the New Hampshire Union-Leader.
Bouldin’s bill simply reads, “In the year of our Lord two thousand nineteen; An act relative to the recitation of The Lord’s Prayer in public elementary schools. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court convened … RSA 194:15-a, relative to recitation of the Lord’s prayer in elementary schools, is repealed.”
The House Education Committee heard arguments both for and against the repeal on Wednesday.
“As an educator of elementary-age children, I know how impressionable they can be and how they look to their teacher for guidance,” remarked Rep. Joshua Query, D-Manchester. “Allowing teachers to lead their class in this prayer can be confusing and intimidating to those children of different faiths.”
“Yeah, under the current laws today it would be considered unconstitutional, [but] that doesn’t make it right,” declared Josh Moore of Merrimack. “And it doesn’t make it relative to what the framers actually believed in.”
Shannon McGinley of the group Cornerstone called Bouldin’s proposal “a clear rejection of the law’s framework within which mere recitation of the Lord’s Prayer is permitted within historical context for the purpose of teaching students about what the law calls ‘our great freedoms.’”
“Ruling out recitation of the Lord’s Prayer is one thing; airbrushing it out of American history is another,” she said, according to the Union-Leader.
As previously reported, in 1828, just 41 years after the signing of the U.S. Constitution, Noah Webster, known as the Father of American Scholarship and Education, wrote, “In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government, ought to be instructed. … No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.”
He also wrote in his publication “Letters to a Young Man Commencing His Education”:
“Let it then be the first study of your early years to learn in what consists real worth or dignity of character. To ascertain this important point, consider the character and attributes of the Supreme Being. As God is the only perfect being in the universe, His character, consisting of all that is good and great, must be the model of all human excellence, and His laws must of course be the only rules of conduct by which His rational creatures can reach any portion of like excellence.”
According to the office of the chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, the first prayer of the Continental Congress was presented on Sept. 7, 1774 by Jacob Duche of Christ Church of Philadelphia, and was delivered in the name of Jesus.
“O Lord our Heavenly Father, high and mighty King of kings, and Lord of lords, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers on earth and reignest with power supreme and uncontrolled over all the kingdoms, empires and governments,” he prayed, “look down in mercy, we beseech Thee, on these our American States, who have fled to Thee from the rod of the oppressor and thrown themselves on Thy gracious protection, desiring to be henceforth dependent only on Thee.”