COLUMBUS Word snags silence bill
The House members think an action by the U.S. Supreme Court bolsters their position.
By JEFF ORTEGA
COLUMBUS -- A dispute over the use of the word prayer helped send to conference committee a proposal that would allow students in public schools to have a moment of silence.
The Ohio House overwhelmingly rejected Senate changes to the bill Tuesday, a move that ensures the measure will have to go to a panel of lawmakers from both chambers which will have to iron out differences.
The Senate had approved the bill earlier this month, but with several changes, including the mandatory requirement that each school system provide for a daily minute of silence for prayer, reflection or meditation.
The Senate changed the measure to make the moment of silence optional and removed reference to the word prayer.
"Why not put [the word prayer] in the bill?" asked state Rep. Rex Damschroder, a northwest Ohio Republican and the bill's chief sponsor.
Under the bill, public school systems could not require students to participate in any moment of silence. Public school systems also would be prohibited from adopting any policy promoting or restricting the freedom of religion.
House Speaker Larry Householder said the word prayer should be in the bill.
"I don't know why we want to dodge what we mean," said Householder, R-Glenford. "We mean prayer."
Supreme Court: House leaders say they think a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision might provide some support for their argument.
Last October, the nation's high court declined to hear a challenge to a Virginia law that required each board of education to establish a daily one-minute moment of silence in each classroom.
According to a legislative analysis, the Virginia law provided that each student was to remain seated and silent so that any student "may, in the exercise of individual choice, meditate, pray, or engage in any other silent activity."
Time frame: Householder said the House would likely name its conferees this week and will meet with Senate leaders to discuss a timeframe. "I don't see a long debate over this," he added.
On a voice vote later Tuesday, the Senate insisted on its amendments, ensuring the matter will move to conference committee.
Lisa Peterson, a spokeswoman for the Senate Republican caucus, said Senate President Richard H. Finan, R-Cincinnati, and Householder each will name two Republicans and one Democrat from each chamber to the conference committee.
Since it's a House bill, Householder will name the conference chairman, Peterson said.