Sunday School at a Baptist Church built by miners in Harlan County, Kentucky, in 1946. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Praying for students in Kentucky

(RNS) — Kentucky could soon have a new law on prayer for its students, and given what Gov. Matt Bevin is saying about their teachers, they'll need it. But let me not get ahead of myself.

House Bill 40, which sailed through the General Assembly last week, begins by helpfully declaring that "the students of the Commonwealth are the state's single greatest resource." And Donald Trump thought it was coal.

Whatever, the next paragraph gets down to business:

The Governor shall annually proclaim the last Wednesday in September as A Day of Prayer for Kentucky's Students and shall call upon the citizens of the state, in accordance with their own faith and consciences, to pray, meditate, or otherwise reflect upon the students of this state as well as their teachers, administrators, and schools.

You'll notice that this is not about having students pray. It's about having other people pray (or meditate or otherwise reflect) "upon" them. Intercessory prayer, to be precise.

Such as what the Republican Bevin proclaimed for Marshall County in January after a 15-year-old took a gun into a high school there and killed two students and wounded 21. Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton, for her part, said she "asked God to assign an angel to every Kentucky child."

Personally, I'm surprised the NRA didn't ask the legislature to assign each of those angels an AR-15.

But, you're asking, wouldn't it be a good idea to encourage students to get into the act themselves? Well, as a matter of fact, last October Bevin did post a video on Facebook encouraging students to bring their Bibles to school for something called Bring Your Bible to School Day. And Rep. Regina Huff, R-Williamsburg, a sponsor of the Day of Prayer for Kentucky's Students, is hopeful that Kentucky's students will take the hint.

Plus, Kentucky has the prayer-in-school thing covered. Since 1976 it's had a law on the books giving local boards of education the right to authorize students to recite "the traditional Lord's prayer."

OK, back in 1962 and 1963 the U.S. Supreme Court forbade governments to authorize prayer and Bible readings in public schools. But Kentucky figures it can get around that by way of, let's call it, civics:

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. 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, including the freedom of religion symbolized by the recitation
of the Lord's prayer.

For the record, the Pilgrims didn't recite the Lord's Prayer. Those intrepid separatists from the Church of England were, in point of fact, notorious for opposing its recitation. You might say that a good way to to teach Kentucky students about our great freedoms would be to conduct exercises that remind them that our Pilgrim fathers achieved freedom of religion in this country by not reciting the Lord's Prayer.

In any event, the day before House Bill 40 passed the General Assembly, Bevin called the state's public school teachers "shortsighted and ignorant" for opposing his pension reform bill. Yesterday, Rep. Bart Rowland, R-Tompkinsville, said he considered that a "personal insult."

“Many of my friends and family are teachers, including my wife,” Rowland said.

I would suggest that Bevin bear in mind that House Bill 40 calls upon the citizenry "to pray, meditate, or otherwise reflect" not only upon the students of the state but also upon "their teachers, administrators, and schools." In Kentucky, personal insults are no joke.


  1. Gov. Bevin wants to institutionalize “thoughts and prayers” so everyone can participate in this empty gesture of pretending to care instead of doing something constructive. Stay classy, Kentucky!

  2. Bevin has been an unfunny joke from day one, although there was mild hope in the beginning that he might be able to do something about the decades-long corruption that came from Democratic Party domination in the state.
    It proved to be a misplaced hope.
    During his campaign, Bevin the ‘savvy businessman’ (who relied on government bailouts to keep his failed business afloat) initially ran on a platform that included support for legalizing cock-fighting and dog-fighting, although he dropped that as soon as it proved unpopular with non-Appalachian voters.
    He was also caught lying about his educational background (he said he had been a student at MIT; he never was), and he promised to release his tax returns after he was elected.
    Afterwards, of course, he changed his mind, and then claimed he had never said he would release them to begin with.
    When news clips were played proving he had indeed said he would, Bevin screamed about ‘liberal media bias’ and has mostly stayed away from all newscasters in the state who refuse to ask soft-ball questions.
    Just recently, a pal of Bevin’s (they attend the same mega-church) was appointed as Kentucky’s ‘Adoption Czar’ with a hefty six-figure salary, even though the man had absolutely no experience in adoption services whatsoever.
    After less than a year the position was terminated, but not before KY taxpayers put $200,000 into the man’s pocket, which is most likely the only reason Bevin created the position to begin with.
    Little wonder that Bevin is known in KY as ‘mini-Trump’.

  3. I would suggest allowing the people of Kentucky to reconcile themselves or not to the Governor’s plea as they so choose.

  4. So glad Kentucky is so prosperous and free of trouble that their legislature has the time and resources to devote to such a pointless endeavor.

    Not only a waste of time, but if passed a waste of taxpayer funds to defend the inevitable lawsuit which will invalidated it.

  5. This week he has been here in West Kentucky trying to undo the damage from his petulant name calling of teachers and others on a pension. He’s trying to fully fund the badly crippled state pension program…on the backs of active teachers and those retired. He’s had a hard on for the destruction of the public school system since taking office. Wants school choice…for profit religious academies et al. We call him a Yankee carpet bagger as he’s constantly helping his rich corporate buddies access the general fund calling it an investment towards job creation. $15 million is the latest amount for an aluminum factory that has yet to break ground…anywhere.

  6. Clearly not, since it does not call for a belief in anything at all, and calls citizens rather than orders them.

    That deftly steers around all the constitutional issues.

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