La. Senate panel backs putting 'In God We Trust' on display in schools, shies away from anti-discrimination bill

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A Senate panel pushed forward on bills that could further open the door to religion in public schools, while shying away from anti-discrimination bills protecting members of the LGBT community.

Facing an uphill fight at the Louisiana capitol, Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, shelved his bill aimed at protecting members of the LGBT community. "Adults can disagree with kids, but when that translates into that kid physically not feeling safe, that's where governments should step in," Morrell told the panel, before voluntarily deferring his bill.

Morrell said he wanted to start a conversation. His bill would have prohibited schools that receive state funding from discriminating based on a student's gender identity or sexual orientation. "This has always devolved into whether or not the State of Louisiana is supporting or endorsing a certain type of behavior, or putting one group ahead of another group," he said.

But when it came to bills that would allowed religion a greater presence in schools, lawmakers offered a ringing endorsement. With little discussion, the Senate Education committee approved a bill allowing teachers to participate in student-lead prayer groups during the school day, provided their participation does not interfere with their work responsibilities. State law already allows them to participate before and after school hours.

The panel also threw its unanimous support behind a bill by Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge. It requires the national motto "In God We Trust" be on display in public schools. Information about the motto would also need to be woven into classroom instruction. Barrow framed it as a way to introduce kids to religion. "I believe we owe and have that obligation to at least ensure they have that introduction, because we cannot assume that it is always happening at home," she said.

Both the motto bill and the prayer bill now head to the full Senate for consideration. They also need to win support in the House.

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