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Tuesday, May 29, 2012 - 11:42am

School Prayer Issue Resurfaces

The Columbus City Council has fielded a request to revive bible study in public schools. The request has already caught the attention of a Wisconsin group that works to keep church and state separate.

Columbus businessman Paul Voorhees went before the Columbus City Council last week asking members to go on record endorsing bible study in school.

Voorhees presented a draft resolution to the council. In an interview, Voorhees cites a new Florida law that allows school prayer, and wants Georgia to follow suit.

His request sparked a complaint by a private resident to The Freedom From Religion Foundation. The group in turn wrote to council, urging it not to support Voorhees’ request.

Foundation attorney Andrew Seidel says the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that religious instruction in public schools is unconstitutional.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is nip this in the bud, and let everybody who may be listening to this person know that this is a waste of taxpayer time, money and resources,” Seidel said in an interview.

Georgia high schools already have the option of providing elective bible courses as part of the history and literature curriculum. But fewer schools are offering them.

One reason is money. With fewer students choosing elective Bible coursework, it doesn’t make good budget sense for many districts to offer the classes.

And the state’s tougher math curriculum is driving down enrollment as students spend extra time learning math.

Only 16 out of Georgia’s 180 districts offer Bible coursework — down two-thirds from four years ago.

Voorhees says schools are scared to offer bible study because of the threat of lawsuits over school prayer. He thinks a referendum would pass overwhelmingly, and that would convince schools that Georgians support bible classes in schools.

He also wants the state to pass a law that would exempt schools from lawsuits over religious instruction and prayer.

Georgia in 2006 became the first state in the nation to allow Bible classes in public schools.

The Columbus City Council hasn’t yet taken action on Voorhees' request.