Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) plans to veto a school prayer bill should it come to his desk, spokesman Brian Coy confirmed, making the issue one of a few controversial topics where the new governor has staked out a position.
The proposed legislation, which passed the state Senate when the upper chamber was under Republican control, would codify students’ right to pray before, during and after school; organize prayer groups, clubs and events; wear religious clothing or accessories; and express religious viewpoints at school forums. It is currently in committee in the House of Delegates, where Republicans hold a large majority.
In previous years, Republicans have tried unsuccessfully to enshrine the right to prayer in schools and other public places through the state constitution. Constitutional amendments do not have to be signed by the governor, but they must be passed by the legislature both before and after an election before going to voters for ratification.
The current bill, introduced by four conservative senators, instead puts the right to pray in the code, and directs public schools not to regulate religious views in otherwise permissible speeches unless it is disruptive or obscene.
Critics of the proposed legislation have argued that the bill would be used to enshrine Christianity in schools and public life.
“This would be the first time” the issue had gone to the governor, said Sen. Charles W. Carrico (R-Grayson), who has for years advocated for explicitly allowing individuals to pray in public schools. “I guess he will just have to answer to the people as to why he’s doing it.”
During the campaign McAuliffe promised to be a “brick wall” against any new limits to abortion access in Virginia. But since taking office he has not weighed in regularly on legislation, saying that he will wait until bills come to his desk.