One conservative religious group in Kentucky recently linked the Supreme Court's 1962 ban on school prayer to the AIDS crisis, falling SAT scores and the rise of teen pregnancy rates.
The American Family Association of Kentucky –- a fundamentalist Christian nonprofit that says its mission is to “oppose the barriers to the flow of God's love to all people” –- asked its members to sign a petition last week pushing for the legalization of prayer in local public schoools. The petition states that after the removal of prayer from public schools, teen pregnancy and violent crime rates spiked 500 percent, instances of STDs increased 226 percent and SAT scores plummeted for 18 consecutive years. Taken together, the petition said, these conditions "open[ed] the door for the AIDS epidemic and the drug culture.”
The petition notes that Florida and Mississippi have new laws allowing students to pray during school events. Indeed, a 2013 Mississippi law requires public schools to develop policies that allow students to initiate prayer at school events and over the school intercom; that law also prohibits school officials from instigating prayer. A 2012 Florida law allows students to read “inspirational messages” at voluntary school events.
The American Family Association petition calls on Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear (D) to enact legislation modeled after the Mississippi and Florida laws.
“Florida and Mississippi have already put prayer (religious speech) back into their schools!" the petition states. "Students praying again will eventually turn our country back to God!"
In response to the petition, Rebecca Markert, an attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an organization that works to maintain the separation of church and state, noted that the group's claims about falling SAT scores and teen pregnancy are unsubstantiated.
"The American Family Association of Kentucky doesn't cite to any authority backing up these statistics," said Markert in an email to The Huffington Post. She further stated that another of the petition's assertions -- that "prayer was in our schools for over 200 years before the anti-God forces took it out in 1962" -- is misleading.
"In 1962 when the landmark Engel v. Vitale decision came down from the Supreme Court, it was estimated that only half of public schools had any religious ritual in them," said Markert.
While the Supreme Court banned prayer in public schools more than five decades ago, some schools maintain a fairly thin line separating church from state. For example, one Alabama school district is under fire from the Freedom From Religion Foundation amid plans to initiate a prayer caravan involving district officials traveling to schools and asking for God’s blessings for the upcoming school year.