Oklahoma House passes moment-of-silence bill
By The Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY Oklahoma school students would observe a minute of silent prayer or meditation each day and learn the history of the American flag under legislation passed by the state House yesterday.
The measure, a combination of 11 different bills with religious or patriotic themes, passed 99-0 after about one hour of discussion and debate in which some lawmakers questioned whether it was really needed.
"Every school district can do this today without a law being passed," said Rep. M.C. Leist, D-Morris.
Leist and Rep. Don Ross, D-Tulsa, said they agreed with the bill's purpose but believe the Legislature should spend more time dealing with more pressing issues, including a projected $350 million budget shortfall next year that could force massive budget cuts at state agencies.
Ross said proposed budget cuts could trim $189 million in state and federal dollars from agencies that provide health care and other services to needy Oklahomans, including school children.
"The question of health care for these kids is going to be just as important," Leist said.
House members said the measure is needed to restore a sense of patriotism and spirituality among school students.
"We have squelched any religious expression. We may have gone too far," said Rep. Lance Cargill, R-Harrah.
Several House members noted that mandatory school prayer has been outlawed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
"We don't require that they pray," said Rep. Terry Matlock, D-Garvin. "We don't require patriotism in our schools. And look where we are today. We're under terrorist attack.
"I want my kids to grow up with the same pride that I grew up with," Matlock said.
Rep. Forrest Claunch, R-Midwest City, said language in the bill was borrowed from legislation in other states that had already been upheld by court rulings.
Among other things, the measure requires one minute of silence each day in classrooms "in order that the right of students to the free exercise of religion be guaranteed."
It states that students may meditate, pray or engage in any other silent activity and must remain seated and silent during the observance.
The bill also requires that the American flag be displayed in school buildings and that students receive instruction "in the history and etiquette" of the flag.
It authorizes students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag each day and allows school districts to display the national motto "In God We Trust" in public schools.
It also requires school districts to conduct Veterans Day programs each Nov. 11.
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