Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb has signed a bill strengthening an existing law protecting the right of parents to briefly excuse their child from school to receive religious instruction.

Gov. Holcomb signed the law (HB 1137) on Mar. 13. It “requires a principal to allow a student to attend religious instruction conducted by certain entities following the principal’s receipt of written notice from the student’s parent.”

The legislation passed the Indiana House of Representatives overwhelmingly in a 69-25 vote on Mar. 7. The Indiana state Senate then approved HB 1137 by a large 32-16 margin.

In a statement on the law, the Indiana Family Institute, a Focus on the Family-allied state family policy council, said HB 1137 “is a promising bill that would require principals at public schools to allow students to attend religious classes during the school day, provided the classes are off school property, privately funded, and parent-permitted.” The organization added:

This concept is protected by a 1952 U.S. Supreme Court ruling but was never brought to fruition in Indiana law. We believe HB 1137 revolutionizes Indiana schools for the better and positively impact countless lives.

Additionally, Alliance Defending Freedom issued a press release lauding the bill after Gov. Holcomb signed HB 1137 into law.

“Parents have the right and responsibility to guide the upbringing and education of their children. And many parents consider religious instruction an important part of their child’s education,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Greg Chafuen. He added,

While public schools can teach about the Bible from a neutral, secular perspective, released time programs offer courses in religious instruction taught by third-party charitable organizations off school grounds during school hours.

These programs accommodate parents’ desire for their children to receive religious instruction that cannot be offered by public schools.

The legislation Gov. Holcomb has signed strengthens existing law through a meaningful modification that ensures public schools will respect parents’ opportunity to have their children participate in ‘release time’ programs.

“We commend the Indiana Legislature and the governor for making sure parents are in the driver’s seat to direct the upbringing and education of their kids,” Chafuen said.

Over the past 60 years, religion has systematically been removed from our nation’s public-school systems.

In 1962, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Engel v. Vitale that it is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment for school officials to sanction prayers in schools.

The case in Engel centered around a simple 22-word non-denominational prayer, known as The Regents’ Prayer, which students could recite – though they were not required to do so. The prayer is as follows:

Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our country. Amen.

The Engel case was decided 6-1. In his dissent from the court’s decision, former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart – writing alone – said,

With all respect, I think the Court has misapplied a great constitutional principle. I cannot see how an “official religion” is established by letting those who want to say a prayer say it. On the contrary, I think that to deny the wish of these school children to join in reciting this prayer is to deny them the opportunity of sharing in the spiritual heritage of our Nation.

Justice Stewart went on to point out that many of our nation’s governmental institutions – the Congress, presidents and even the Supreme Court itself – often invoke religious sentiments and prayers. He added,

What each has done has been to recognize and to follow the deeply entrenched and highly cherished spiritual traditions of our Nation – traditions which come down to us from those who almost two hundred years ago avowed their “firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence” when they proclaimed the freedom and independence of this brave new world.

It is virtually certain that our founding fathers would not have seen a brief, optional prayer in schools as a violation of the U.S. Constitution. In fact, our founding fathers knew religion supports our nation’s government and institutions.

Indeed, in a letter to the Massachusetts Militia on Oct. 11, 1798, former President John Adams wrote, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

And in his Farewell Address, published on Sept. 19, 1976, former President George Washington wrote,

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. …

It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.

For this reason, Indiana’s HB 1137 is a great step in the right direction towards reintroducing religion and morality as vital parts of the education of our nation’s children. If students cannot receive religious instruction inside public schools, they should at least be able to do so outside the classroom.

Bring Your Bible to School Day is an annual student-led celebration that empowers Christian students to live out their faith. Last year, over 1 million students participated nationwide. You can register for this year’s Bring Your Bible to School Day which will be held on October 3.

Related articles and resources:

Bring Your Bible to School Day

Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?

Photo from Shutterstock.